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Music Percept. 2010 Jun 1;27(5):377-388.

Humans Rapidly Learn Grammatical Structure in a New Musical Scale.

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1
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.

Abstract

Knowledge of musical rules and structures has been reliably demonstrated in humans of different ages, cultures, and levels of music training, and has been linked to our musical preferences. However, how humans acquire knowledge of and develop preferences for music remains unknown. The present study shows that humans rapidly develop knowledge and preferences when given limited exposure to a new musical system. Using a non-traditional, unfamiliar musical scale (Bohlen-Pierce scale), we created finite-state musical grammars from which we composed sets of melodies. After 25-30 min of passive exposure to the melodies, participants showed extensive learning as characterized by recognition, generalization, and sensitivity to the event frequencies in their given grammar, as well as increased preference for repeated melodies in the new musical system. Results provide evidence that a domain-general statistical learning mechanism may account for much of the human appreciation for music.

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