The Problem With Scientific Studies in Music

The Problem With Scientific Studies in Music (link)

This is an interesting read. It’s always easy for a hard scientific study to discard or consider cultural elements. They are so much more difficult to quantify. But considering that music is so deeply embedded in the culture from which it emerges, it seems folly to not have it as a consideration. When dealing with music, it is hard to separate intervals from meaning. Begs the question that if music is a language, why is every dialect different? Music is much more complex than that, in my opinion.

2 thoughts on “The Problem With Scientific Studies in Music

  1. Well, once I got past the marmots, I followed the link and discovered Adele. I’d heard neither of her nor of her “iconic” “tear-jerker” of a song, so I watched the video as a blank slate.

    I knew from the beginning that sadness was appropriate. There was the solitary figure, the bridge, the long walk toward nothingness, the black and white. That’s language, too, and it communicated. But even after two listens, the whole thing left me cold. There seemed to be some disconnect between Adele and the song. She didn’t seem affected by the music, so I wasn’t, either. The song certainly doesn’t have the power of K.D. Lang’s version of Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, which makes me cry every time I listen to it.

    Beyond that, assertions that minor keys are “sadder” and “emotionally ambiguous” seem pretty sweeping. I happen to love music in a minor key – one of my favorites is Billy Bragg and Wilco’s “Way Down Yonder in a Minor Key” . It makes me happy every time I listen to it. My favorite Bach pieces are in D Minor, and I gravitate to E Minor the way some people do to puppies.

    Which is to say – what do I know? Not much. But stimulus-response seems a poor way to describe the complexities of music and its effects on us. When I was a child I loved Glenn Miller because my daddy danced with me to his music. Thirty years later, I cut off a relationship with a fellow because it was clear it was going to be all Big Band music, all the time, and I couldn’t stand the thought. The music was the same, but the context wasn’t – and that made all the difference.

  2. Good points and I think you are hitting on one of the points I hope to stress in a future post. While I have no doubt that the human brain responds to stimuli in certain ways (and that artists have discovered that by trial and error over the millenia) there are many more factors to consider when determining an emotional response. You mentioned a connection with a personal past (in relation to Big Bands). I see absolutely the same thing in the k.d. lang link you provided (wow, that was powerful). The words mean something to her, which informs and inspires her performance. Also, it should be remembered that things like minor keys were not always considered sad. If you look at the history of western music, you see lots of treatises that were valid in their day to explain the music of the time. But the decisions of yesteryear for the uses of Greek modes, church chant, or tritone intervals are not valid today, at least in the same cultural context. We may hear the music and certainly will respond to it (even with indefference, as you did to the Adele song). But there is both cultural and individual context when determining meaning in my opinion.

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