Universalien of the music perception

the Universalien of the music perception are the elements of the music perception and - processing, as innate, D. h. to be regarded culture-independently.

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multiple meets us the opinion, music is a universal language. This implies the acceptance that music possesses universal characteristics, thus characteristics, which are common to almost all musical systems in the world, and/or. that there are universal mental structures for the processing of music. Of a universal characteristic one, if the characteristic is not learned, speaks but appears spontaneous, latently in all normal persons present is, is innate (Dissanayake, 2001). Regarding the distinction more innately and/or. universal processes of acquired the consideration is helpful that processes, which already function with the birth are very probably innate and thus independent of experiences. Consequently one could conclude from comparisons of babies and adults or of persons from different music cultures that the process is probably innate, if these show the same function modes, and that with differences between the populations the process could be acquired by Enkulturation. From this perspective music is not a universal language, but the Universalien of the music perception and - rather the borders describe processing, within whose the characteristics of the music between different cultures vary.

See also: musical parameters

physiological bases of the music perception

sensation area

the range, within which music can be noticed, are borders by the sensation area of humans set. We can notice frequencies between 20 cycles per second and 20 kHz. However the frequency range used for music is essentially limited to frequencies between 40 cycles per second and 10 kHz. Our hearing is most sensitive at the upper and lower limit of the perceptible frequency range at most insensitive and within the range between 1000 and 5000 cycles per second, where the speech comprehension important frequency ranges are.

pitch perception

Zusammenhang zwischen Position des Erregungsmaximums im Innenohr, wahrgenommener Tonhöhe (Tonheit) und Frequenz
connection between position of the excitation maximum in the interior ear, noticed pitch (clay/toneness) and frequency

the pitch perception and the dissolution of the frequencies in the audio range is closely connected with the physiology of the interior ear and the auditorischen brain. The interior ear accomplishes a Frequenzanalyse of the signal belonged, by filtering different frequencies along the hair cell row in the Corti organ of the Cochlea (hearing snail). There are the synapses (connection points) of nerve cells, which pass the signals on for the respective frequencies for processing to the brain.

The noticed pitch (clay/toneness) depends here on the place in the hair cell row , at which nerve cells become lively. Between the position of maximum excitation in the hair cell row (measured in millimeters of the end of the Cochlea) and the noticed pitch a linear connection results: If the excitation maximum in the hair cell row possesses a twice as large distance from the end of the Cochlea as with another clay/tone with a clay/tone, then the noticed pitch of this clay/tone is twice as high.

Wahrgenommene Tonhöhe (Tonheit in Mel) in Abhängigkeit von der Frequenz
Noticed pitch (clay/toneness in Mel) as a function of the frequency
  • with deep and middle frequencies below 1000 cycles per second causes a doubling of the frequency of a clay/tone (a Oktave is in music seen) a duplication of the distance of the excitation maximum from the end of the Cochlea and thus a duplication of the noticed pitch.
  • With high frequencies above 1000 cycles per second do not cause a doubling of the frequency no more a duplication of the distance of the excitation maximum from the end of the Cochlea. Like that a Verachtfachung of the frequency (= 3 Oktaven) is necessary, in order to obtain a duplication of the distance of the excitation maximum from the end of the Cochlea and to reach a duplication of the noticed pitch with a clay/tone of 1500 cycles per second.

While thus within the range of deep and middle frequencies a musical interval of a Oktave always leads to the same change of the noticed pitch, does not apply this within the range of high frequencies any longer. Here the change of the wahrgenomemen pitch per Oktave becomes substantially smaller. This applies naturally also to other musical intervals. This has the consequence that in the case of melodies within the range of very high clay/tone situations the impression of the sound results that the clay/tone distances are smaller as if them in the range of mittelerer and low clay/tone situations are played. This can lead to the fact that a melody, which is transponiert upward around several Oktaven sounds itself then “somehow diagonally”.

This relationship between pitch and frequency applies however only to “pure” tones (pures tone), which can be produced only in the laboratory. In normal acoustic practice musical tones consist however, exactly like be correctful language sounds, of a multiplicity of frequencies: a basic frequency and an integral multiples of it (harmonious one, overtones). Nevertheless this multiplicity of frequencies releases the perception only one pitch. This is identical to the pitch of the basic frequency, which let assume from Helmholtz that the basic frequency determines the pitch. That has in 20. Century of the Psychophysiker Schouten disproves. It could prove that already few overtones neighbouring within the overtone row released the same pitch as the basic frequency alone (phenomenon of the “missing basic frequency” Residualklang).

The explanation of this phenomenon is in the centralnervous processing. Overlays of nerve impulses of overtones result in an impulse sample, which illustrates the basic frequency of the clay/tone. This periodicity information is probably filtered after present level of knowledge by neurons in the auditorischen central brain (colliculus inferior), which are individually with in each case a certain periodicity (and thus on a basic pitch) co-ordinated.


Bendor, D., Wang, X. (2005). The neurally representation OF pitch into primate auditory cortex. Nature, 436, 1161-1165.

Biebel, U.W., Langner, G. (1997). Evidence for “pitch of neuron” into the auditory midbrain OF chinchillas. In: Syka, J. (OD.), Acoustic signal processing into the cent ral Auditory system. Plenum press, New York, pp. 263-269.

Biebel, U.W., Langner, G. (2002). Evidence for interact ion across frequencies channels into the inferior colliculus OF awake chinchilla. Hear. Res. 169, 151-168.

Rees, A. and Sarbaz, A. (1997) The influence OF intrinsic oscillations on the encoding OF amplitude modulation by neuron into the inferior colliculus. In: J. Syka (OD.), Acoustic signal processing into the cent ral Auditory system, plenum press, New York, pp. 239-252.

dissolution of pitch

the attainable frequency and dissolution of pitch hangs with the component density of nerve cell connections in the hair cell row together and with the possibility of the brain of processing the signals “nerve cell-exactly”.

  • With low frequencies in the proximity a musical Oktave corresponds to the lower critical frequency of the hearing less than a millimeter along the hair cell row. Here the possible dissolution of pitch is relatively small.
  • With increasing frequency doubles itself the length of the hair cell row, which stands for the evaluation of a Oktave for order. Accordingly also the possible dissolution of pitch rises. It reaches starting from frequencies of 500 cycles per second with a length within the hair cell row of approx. 6 mm per Oktave their maximum.
  • With middle and higher frequencies above 500 cycles per second and up to approximately 3000 cycles per second remain the length of the hair cell row per Oktave and thus the attainable dissolution of pitch in approximately constant. (approx. 6 mm per Oktave). Experienced musicians can still differentiate between clay/tone intervals of approximately 1/30 half-tone. This corresponds to a frequency difference of little cycles per second with middle frequencies.

Due to the attainable dissolution of frequency the way, like the brain pitches are categorized and/or. into like many tones one the Oktave divides, borders set. However there is no direct connection between the discernment and the categorization of the pitches in scales - these categories are much rougher and, usually in adjustment at consonant intervals, are learned.

perception of music voices

the physiology and processing steps of the human interior ear have effects on the perception of music pieces. A substantial effect of the interior ear is the so-called masking effect: If individual tones in a frequency range are played, where these outweigh intensity-moderately, then not only the nerve cells become lively, which are responsible for these tones, but to a large extent still nerve cells in the environment due to the mechanics of the interior ear. Since the noticed volume depends however on the total excitation of the nerve cells in the interior ear, this leads to the fact that a melody voice is louder noticed, than it is physically seen.

Music portions, single tone character do not have (company in chords, rhythm instruments) energize from their spectrum rather a broad frequency range, so that hardly additional nerve cells become lively due to the masking effect here. A rise of the noticed volume hardly takes place.

This contributes to it that a melody voice can be well noticed within the company, even if its volume is not substantially larger than that the Begleitinstrumente.

it has perception of

rhythms the nerve cells of the interior ear the characteristic that its excitation decreases during continuous stress. After short time of the peace they regenerate and deliver themselves when renewed suggestion particularly strong signals.

This effect leads to a stress of the rhythm with music pieces. Instruments, which carry the rhythm, ring out often only for short time and often ring out in frequency ranges, are not present straight in which other music voices (e.g. deep bass range with a large drum, relatively high frequency range with basins, in addition: rhythmic company one or more Oktaven under or over the melody voice).
In these frequency ranges relative peace prevails between the rhythm impacts, so that the nerve cells responsible for these frequencies can recover. With a rhythm impact these nerve cells produce then completely particularly strong signals.

This contributes to it that rhythm instruments can be very well noticed, even if its volume is not substantially larger than that of the other instruments.

Universalien of the pitch and melody perception

discrete pitch categories

the perception of discrete pitches is probably universal. Already children seem to be prädisponiert to sing discrete pitches. This kategoriale pitch perception exists in all cultures - thus the musical message can be understood despite difficulties like a loud environment or a bad Intonation (Dowling & Harwood, 1986). Category formation has the purpose to reduce the data set which can be processed and to implement prevented in this way an overloading when music hearing and -. The concrete categories are however learned and thus from culture to culture differently.

according to pitch exists

to Chroma and Oktavidentität of the two-component theory of Révész (1913) as the further dimension the Chroma or the Tonigkeit and in this connection the Oktavidentität apart from the dimension, which is likewise often regarded as Universalie. Chroma one calls the cyclically returning similarity of the Klangcharakters of Oktavtönen. This becomes for example clear therein that different variants of a melody are felt as equivalent, if one the entire melody or also only individual tones of the melody around a Oktave transferred and the outline remains. Without Oktavidentität each individual clay/tone would have its own identity, which would lead to an enormous complexity, but by the Oktavidentität our brain must identify only so many tones, as occur within a Oktave. The organization into Oktaven arranges and structures therefore. There are only very few cultures, which tones in the Oktavabstand not when directly regard. The Oktavidentität real Universalie is not probable, but there is possibly a universal hearing arrangement, due to which the Oktavidentität is learned.


in most cultures seem to Quinte and Quarte apart from the Oktave also . Apparent the brain is inclined rather to these categories, because tones, are given to whose frequency conditions by small whole numbers, can be better processed than such with more complicated frequency conditions (e.g. the Oktave has a frequency relationship of 1 : 2, the Quinte of 2 : 3, the Quarte of 3 : 4, against it the tri tonus of 32 : 45). This also experiments suggest, in which children and adults could keep clay/tone sequences better, their tones in small frequency conditions stood, thus for example better to clay/tone sequences with Quinte and Quarte than with the tri tonus (Trehub, 2000). Probably inclinations to intervals with simple frequency conditions are innate, because they are to learn simply and be represented.

logarithmic scale

from the Oktavidentität results the logarithmic scale, with which the frequency with rising pitch increases ever faster: Since Oktavtöne by frequency doubling result (e.g. are if 440 cycles per second, 880 cycles per second and 1760 cycles per second Oktaven), the frequencies of tones the same category continue to lie apart always, the more the pitch rise. Thus the pitch stands in logarithmic relationship with the frequency. The psychophysische scale resulting from it is universal (Justus & Bharucha, 2002). One can regard it also as universal that there are constructing on this scale pitch categories, scales and clay/tone hierarchies - these are however in their concrete development culturally affected.

scales and clay/tone hierarchies

scales have in all cultures a relatively small number of stages, them consist nearly everywhere of 5 to 7 tones per Oktave. This fits well that the short time memory border for categories is with approximately 7 (Miller, 1956). The number of stages, into which the Oktave is divided, in addition depends on it, how one differentiates tones categorize can.

There are also hardly equidistant scales, means with scales is the intervals between neighbouring clay/tone stages nearly never equally large, e.g. there are complete tones and half-tones in the diatonischen scale. In this way tonal purchases can be manufactured, the tones stand in different relations with the basic clay/tone and the listeners can at each time introduce itself, where the music is regarding the tonal center of the music. Thus a perception of tension and dissolution can develop, which increases the musical expression and experience possibilities (Sloboda, 1985).

By these different relations with the basic clay/tone clay/tone hierarchies, which are also in nearly each culture, form are called the tones of the scale have different functions, it arise differently frequently and at different positions in a melody. The specific clay/tone hierarchies vary however between the cultures (Justus & Bharucha, 2002). It seems to give a universal Verarbeitungsprädisposition for scales with unequal clay/tone distances - such scales are easier to enkodieren and keep than scales with same distances. This shows up already with infants: Trehub (2000) presented three scales - which Durtonleiter, a new scale with unequal distances and an equidistant scale - and examined to children whether they can recognize, if a clay/tone of the scale were shifted three or four half-tones. For the children probably all three scales were unknown, them showed however a significantly better achievement with the two scales with unequal distances as with the gleichschrittigen scale.

Melodi outline

a further Universalie in the pitch and melody perception is connected with the melodischen outline. The listener bends, rather global to process the relationship between tones information concerning as precise, absolute attractions like specific pitches or intervals (Trehub, 2000): After hearing an unknown melody usually hardly more than their outline in the memory will keep, thus changes of direction of the pitch. The moreover one different clay/tone sequences are felt related to same outline than. Already at the infant age the melodische outline has a great importance with the representation of melodies, which on a Universaliepoints. Experiments of Trehub (2000) show that infants a melody, which was transponiert (intervals to remain directly) as identical with the original melody to treat. Even if the intervals change, but the outline received remains, becomes the melody to be familiar and not as new treats. In addition, only if one clay/tone is in such a way shifted the fact that the outline changes regards children and adult the melody as unknown.


likewise universal is the employment of auditiver grouping strategies. The organization from tones to perception units increases the economics and efficiency in the processing of the music, which is limited by the short time memory capacity. It is grouped and structured according to certain shape principles but it is questionable whether also they are universal. Since the musical perception is coined/shaped by learned categories and patterns also, always also different hearing ways are possible (moth Haber, 1996).

Universalien of the rhythm perception

grouping and finding regularities

the grouping from events to perception units, in order to reduce information, belong also to the Universalien of the rhythm perception. This shows up for example in the fact that we combine a consequence of impacts usually into groups of two or three impacts of different weight (Fricke, 1997). In this connection we try to always find in addition a regular pulse, around that we the other events to organize can - we look for an economic processing always actively for regularities. Confirmation finds this among other things in experiments of Drake and Bertrand (2001), with which the synchronization was with over 90%, if persons should knock the clock to the music, and who show that already babies can adapt their suction rate to the rate of a auditiven sequence.

organization in different levels

rhythm is always in different levels organized: Over the addressed regular pulse rhythmic samples are put - the pulse partitioned by asymmetrically arranged sounds. The details of the rhythmic organization differ however from culture to culture. One of the simplest rhythms is the Daktylus (a long interval, followed of two short); in other cultures as in the southern Africa or in India one finds more complex rhythms - here the number of impacts can be within the pulse largely and oddly, e.g. are usual in India 7 to 17 impacts.

A local feeling is created by the asymmetry of the rhythmic samples within the Beats, it develops for stresses, which are also substantial for the music of nearly all cultures. In addition these points of reference form the basis for feeling movement and peace and give notes for the co-ordination of the different parts in polyphoner music (Sloboda, 1985).


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  • C. Drake, D. Bertrand: The quest for university verse as in speed ral processing in music, S. 17-27, in: Robert J. Zatorre among other things (Hrsg.): The biological foundations OF music, Academy OF Science, New York, 2001, (Annals OF the New York Academy OF Sciences; volume. 930), ISBN 1-57331-307-6
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  • Robert Jourdain: The brain probably-kept at a moderate temperature. Like music in the head and works, spectrum of academic Verl develops., for Heidelberg, 2001, ISBN 3-8274-1122-X
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  • G. A. Miller: The magical NUMBERs seven, plus or minus two. Some of limit on our capacity for processing information, in: Psychological Review, 63 (1956), S. 81-97
  • Helga de la moth Haber: Manual of the music psychology, Laaber Verl., Laaber, 2002
  • Géza Révész: To the foundation of the clay/tone psychology, Veit, Leipzig, 1913
  • John A. Sloboda: The musical at least. The cognitive psychology OF music, Univ. Pr., Oxford, 2003, ISBN 0-19-852128-6
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