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Innate Musicality

Innate Musicality

 
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Objective:

This packet explores the innate musical abilities of our species.

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Tutorial

Sounds "sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."

Psychologist Diana Deutsch has researched human perceptions and recollections of sounds. What we hear may not be what was actually said or sung, she writes, but, in fact, "The sounds as they appear to you are not only different from those that are really present, but they sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."

"They sometimes behave so strangely."

Read this sentence out loud a few times. Five or six times should do it:

  • "They sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible."

Did you hear anything unusual? If not, try reading it a few more times, this time with a few words omitted:

  • "They sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "They sometimes behave so strangely."

Most of us learned the Solfege method of singing. Here is a famous example of a teacher sharing the Solfege method.

There's more to "Do-Re-Mi" than deers and teacups.

Although not frequently taught in the twenty-first century, one fascinating component of music education is the Solfege hand signs. The "Manual Signs of Tone in Key" was developed by John Curwen in the mid-nineteeth century.

In the Curwen model, each note has a specific hand shape. Each note also has a specific tone. In the PDF below, check out "doh," the strong or firm tone. Picture Homer Simpson singing the scale.

These manual signs are not to be confused with shape-note singing. Shape-note singing is a form of musical notation, while the Curwen hand signs are a form of musical instruction.

Curwen Hand Signs

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But, we don't need words to be musical.

In this clip from the World Science Festival 2009, Bobby McFerrin leads the audience in melody. No sheet music, no pitch pipe.

Children listening carefully to Diana Deutsch speaking about sounds behaving strangely

In this clip, fifth graders from Atwater School in Shorewood, Wisconsin listen to Diana Deutsch speaking.

Now, try to read aloud without singing!

Now, try saying the phrase again. Can you say it out loud without bursting into melody?

  • "Sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "Sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "Sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "Sometimes behave so strangely."
  • "Sometimes behave so strangely."

And as you talk with others or engage with print materials,

keep an ear out for the hidden musicality of day-to-day communications.

Questions and Answers

  • Answers 0
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    Kathe Kacheroski about 3 years ago

    Another reference to Diana Deutsche and more connections between music and language: an archived RadioLab episode on Musical Language: http://www.radiolab.org/2007/sep/24/. Deutsch is one of the guests on this podcast.

    Here's the synopsis:

    In this hour of Radiolab, we examine the line between language and music.

    What is music? Why does it move us? How does the brain process sound, and why are some people better at it than others?

    We re-imagine the disastrous debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913 through the lens of modern neurology, and we meet a composer who uses computers to capture the musical DNA of dead composers in order to create new work.

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