Week 2 – Music on the small scale

Music Cognition (PSYC 4541), CU–Boulder, Summer 2016


Monday, June 6 (due 7am MDT): reading and quiz 3
Wednesday, June 8 (due 7am MDT): reading and quiz 4
Thursday, June 9, 7am MDT: Video office hours
Friday, June 10 (due 7am MDT): core concept video submissions due
Friday, June 10 (due 7am MDT): core concept paragraph submissions due

Unit introduction

Is music really a “universal language”? This is a common claim from both musicians and music lovers — but is it true? In this unit, we will begin to unpack which aspects of human musical practice are innate/evolved and which are learned. We will also explore small-scale cognitive functions like short-term and working memory, and their implications for human music.

Core concepts

In this unit, we will explore the following new core concepts. These and the concepts from Unit 1 are possible topics for your core concept videos and paragraphs (see below):

  • short-term memory
  • working memory
  • chunking
  • the musical pitch
  • the musical chord


For Monday, June 6, 7am MDT, please read/watch the following and then take Quiz 3 on D2L:

For Wednesday, June 8, 7am MDT, please read/watch the following and then take Quiz 4 on D2L:

  • Music and Memory, Chapter 4, “Short-Term and Working Memory”
  • Music and Memory, Chapter 5, “Closure”
  • Music and Memory, Chapter 11, “Melody”

On Thursday, June 2, 10am MDT, we will have our second video office hours. A link to the chat is here (password is provided on D2L). Please visit OIT’s Zoom support page for information on setting up your Zoom account and downloading the software for the video chat. There are both desktop and mobile versions. (It is possible to participate via phone instead of the app. See OIT’s instructions, and contact me if you need help.)

For Friday, June 10, 7am MDT, submit two core concept videos. See the Assignment guide for details.

For Friday, June 10, 7am MDT, submit two core concept paragraphs. See the Assignment guide for details.

Supplemental material

In these readings, Snyder talks a lot about musical hierarchy without providing any specific examples, which can be confusing. Following are two videos showing a formal outline of pieces of music that will hopefully help elucidate those concepts.

The first is “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. On the lowest level (blue) are melodic phrases (labeled a and a’; phrases that differ more from each other would be labeled a, b, c, etc.). On the next level (yellow) are “modules”: intro (I), verse (V), prechorus (P), chorus (C), and postchorus (Z). (Ci means instrumental chorus.) On the level above that (orange) are “cycles”: repeated sequences of modules, sometimes with slight variations (as in this song). And finally in green, we have the song level: a verse-chorus song. As you listen, see if you can hear the similarities between phrases/modules with the same label, the differences between modules with different labels, and the kinds of things that Bon Jovi does to articulate closure at the end of each unit.

The second is a video timeline of part of a sonata by Mozart, showing the formal hierarchy. On the lowest level (blue) are melodic groupings: “basic ideas” (BI) and “contrasting ideas” (CI). On the next higher level (yellow) are phrases: presentation phrases (PRES, the first phrase of a theme), compound basic ideas (CBI, another type of opening to a theme), and continuation phrases (closing phrases of a theme). The orange layer provides another layer of groupins within some of the themes. On the green level are themes: primary (P), secondary (S), transition (TR), and closing (C). The highest level, “exposition,” tells us that this is the opening part of the sonata movement in which its main themes (primary and secondary) are presented. Finally, this is the first of three movements that make up the entire sonata.

As you listen, see if you can hear the difference between BI–BI phrases (two similar groups) and BI–CI phrases (two contrasting melodic chunks), as well as the gestures of closure at the end of each segment. Remember that the high-level groupings will end with more definitive moments of closure. Strong moments of closure (“cadences”) are marked with triangles underneath the timeline. (Don’t worry about the notation below them. This is from an advanced theory class.)

Snyder also mentions some non-Western musical cultures that incorporate tuning systems other than 12-tone equal temperament. Below is an video of a Balinese Gamelan ensemble. See if you can hear pitches, intervals, or chords that sound “out-of-tune” from a Western perspective. These are in fact not out-of-tune, but simply representatives of another system, for which most Westerners have not learned the pitch categories.