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Human languages evolve and adapt themselves to the needs (phonetics, auditory, contextual) of the users. To what extent has been showed that Occidental music notation followed that path?

  • Is it just a matter of chance that we note music as we do?
  • Are reciprocals of powers of two dominant because it's easier for a performer to divide a length into a half, than into (say) a fifth? Or does it have to do with the way they get arranged in a listener's mind?
  • We may group notes hierarchically for perceptual reasons, but do these reasons come from the visual skills of the interpreter, or from the cortical organization that listens to it?
  • Are there neuroscientific evidences that our music notation has fitted to the way we play or perceive?

Update (for the sake of clarification): we know how well-founded it is pitch notation in the way we perceive it, even its grounding in physics is understood. Same thing here, why do we note rhythm as we do?

closed as too broad by Dave, Shevliaskovic, Matthew Read Apr 5 '16 at 20:24

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I would say the use of notation, along with so many other cultural items, that have their source in Europe is a broad question that probably doesn't have a widely agreed-upon answer, even in the relevant scientific communities. One interesting theory of the dominance of European culture in modern times was presented by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel. Basically, it was luck of geography and agriculture that made wheat the healthiest of common grains and wheat grows best in Eurasia, if I understood the book correctly. – Todd Wilcox Apr 5 '16 at 17:24
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    I suspect I don't understand your question. When I read it, it seems to have lots of sub-questions (which makes it at least borderline too broad, BTW). Is the main question, "Why does most of the world use the same notation?", which you seem to call "occidental" and "conventional"? By "occidental", I'm assuming you mean "Western" and by "Western" I assuming you mean, "having roots or primary history in Europe". If that's not what you mean by "occidental" or that's not your question, then perhaps you can clarify things. – Todd Wilcox Apr 5 '16 at 17:33
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    @ToddWilcox nightcod3r has been asking a number of (well-received) questions on related topics recently - I suspect some users here might welcome the sub-questions rather than having to deal with a larger number of closely-related questions. – topo Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '16 at 17:41
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    I encouraged this question in a comment to my answer on one of his other questions. I believe this question deals with the history of western rhythm notation as it relates to human rhythmic cognition. I've added the "psychoacoustics" tag accordingly. Possibly related (but different) question: music.stackexchange.com/questions/6799/… – Caleb Hines Apr 5 '16 at 18:00
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    @topomorto I'd personally much rather see more well-received questions than trying to pack all of this into one! The fact that you were unable to address everything in your answer indicates strongly that this is too broad. nightcod3r, while these questions are obviously all related they are deep areas in and of themselves -- please do split them up. – Matthew Read Apr 5 '16 at 20:26
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Is it just a matter of chance that we note music as we do?

One of the ideas put forward by A generative theory of tonal music is that "the events of a piece are related to a regular alternation of strong and weak beats at a number of hierarchical levels" - I believe the suggestion is that this is something fundamental to the human experience of music, though to my shame having seen it referenced so much I don't even recall if I've read the book itself or not! I'd be interested to know if these ideas were put forward as such earlier. In any case, standard rhythm notation relates well to the idea of a hierarchical metric structure.

Are reciprocals of powers of two dominant because it's easier for a performer to divide a length into a half, than into (say) a fifth? Or does it have to do with the way they get arranged in a listener's mind?

I believe that standard rhythm notation deals pretty well with threes as well as twos. I suspect that twos and threes (and fours) are in some senses the groups we tend to see as most straightforwardly 'musical', at least in the Occident...

We may group notes hierarchically for perceptual reasons, but do these reasons come from the visual skills of the interpreter, or from the cortical organization that listens to it?

I'm sure that there's plenty of evidence that seeing/reading hierarchical structures is helpful - if we agree that we 'hear' hierarchically too, then the answer would be 'both' (if I understand the question).

  • I'm afraid I can't answer on the neuroscience and hope there are some more learned answers on their way! – topo Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '16 at 17:46

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