Christmas Carol Talk

Dec 22, 2009 By Devin Powell, ISNS

Even without the lyrics, the tunes of some Christmas carols -- such as "Jingle Bells" or "Deck the Halls" -- sound uplifting. But the melodies of other songs like "We Three Kings" have a different, somber sound.

That's because the notes used to compose these pieces were borrowed from the sounds we make in everyday speech, according to research published in the latest issue of . The notes in Jingle Bells resemble patterns in excited talking, while the notes in We Three Kings resembled patterns in subdued talking.

When we speak, our vocal chords vibrate to produce a pitch. By moving the lips and the throat move, our bodies transform that pitch into a complicated pattern of many simultaneous sounds with different pitches -- which can be seen on a diagram called a spectra that shows how loud all the different frequencies in our speech are. Every vowel has a different pattern of sounds that allows ears of a listener to distinguish an "ah" from an "oo."

"Lots of people over the centuries have noted similarities between speech and music, but no one has compared the spectra of these two sound categories," said Purves.

When we get excited, the pitch produced by the vocal chords rises. This changes the pattern of sound for each vowel to mathematical relationships that resemble many of the chords used in "major" scales and songs like "Happy Birthday." In subdued speech, the pitch by the vocal chords drops, changing the vowel patterns to resemble "minor" chords used in carols such as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

The research builds on previous work by Purves suggesting that every note on the piano and all the scales of notes used in music around the world -- from Japan to India to the West -- are fundamentally connected to patterns in the sounds of conversation.

Explore further: Best of Last Week – First map of hidden universe, pursuit of compact fusion and new clues about the causes of depression

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Disappearing vowels 'caught' on tape in US midwest

Oct 26, 2009

Try to pronounce the words "caught" and "cot." If you're a New Yorker by birth, the two words will sound as different as their spellings. But if you grew up in California, you probably pronounce them identically.

Lend me your ears -- and the world will sound very different

Jan 14, 2008

Recognising people, objects or animals by the sound they make is an important survival skill and something most of us take for granted. But very similar objects can physically make very dissimilar sounds and we are able to ...

Recommended for you

US company sells out of Ebola toys

Oct 17, 2014

They might look tasteless, but satisfied customers dub them cute and adorable. Ebola-themed toys have proved such a hit that one US-based company has sold out.

Social trust eroded in Chinese product-tampering incident

Oct 14, 2014

For about a decade, Chinese consumers weren't getting what they paid for when they purchased Wuchang, a special brand of gourmet rice that has a peculiar scent. The quality was being diluted when less expensive rice was aromatized, ...

The 2014 Nobel Prizes at a glance

Oct 13, 2014

(AP)—All winners of the 2014 Nobel Prizes have now been announced, starting with the medicine award a week ago and ending with the economics prize on Monday.

User comments : 0