Research Reveals First Evidence of Bimusicalism in Untrained Listeners

January 11, 2010

( -- Music, like language, is affected by the mass cultural exchanges resulting from globalization. Bilingualism is increasing, and now a University of Arkansas researcher and her colleagues present the first evidence for bimusicalism in untrained music listeners.

“It is interesting that bimusicalism may be more prevalent than bilingualism, yet bimusicalism had not been studied in a laboratory setting,” said Elizabeth Margulis, who studies cognition at the University of Arkansas. The research is published in the current issue of Music Perception.

Margulis worked with colleagues Patrick C.M. Wong and Anil K. Roy of Northwestern University to devise and administer two experiments to reveal whether music listeners understand aspects of unfamiliar music from a different culture as well as they do the music of their own culture.

The researchers worked with volunteers in India and in the United States - people who were music listeners, not musicians, and who were familiar with music from their culture, but not from the other culture. They also tested another group in the United States who were not trained musicians but had experience listening to both Western and Indian music.

First, the researchers tested - the ability to identify whether a music clip came from a previously heard symphony. Second, using snippets of music specifically composed for the project, they tested tension judgment, that is, the ability to sense a melody’s progression toward resolution or dissonance.

Not surprisingly, listeners showed more understanding for the music from their own culture when they had not heard another culture’s music. However, those listeners who had had significant exposure to both cultures’ music showed equal responses to music from either tradition.

“These research results provide a scaffolding for more research on bilingualism and bimusicalism,” Margulis said.

For example, the research cannot answer “whether one type of music exists as a ‘parasite’ of another type.” That is, does the knowledge of one type of music interfere with the brain’s processing of the other type of music, as has been seen in the processing of a second language?

The researchers also point to the need for further study “at this critical junction of globalization where few monocultural experiences of music remain and numerous multicultural experiences are emerging.”

Margulis plans to do more research using neuroimaging to see whether bimusicalism is similar in the brain to bilingualism. She’s interested in understanding how much music processing is “grafted on” to language processing.

Margulis is an associate professor of music in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas.

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2 / 5 (1) Jan 11, 2010
Hmmm. It never entered my mind there was any difference. Music exists outside language. Either one has a talent for it or not. Either one appreciates it or one doesn't get it (an attitude I associate with a tin ear). I note many scientists throw out intuition (laudable but impractible) and pretend to start from a base of assumed but unrealistic ignorance; proving the obvious again and again. That technique can reveal truths about the 'obvious' but seems often tiresome when it comes to human behaviour. The answer would seem to lie in how one asks the question. Certainly. I wonder what the question is on occasion. This one is interesting, because musical progression depends upon the framework whence the music came. To me, good music often holds a surprise otherwise it would be extemely predictable and, at this stage of human history, exhausted. Interesting. Now, how can we use it? I suppose the answer is in the revelation of how humanity 'thinks'. thus teaching us what 'thought' is...
not rated yet Jan 11, 2010

See I disagree --- music is a language

i have better than average music training and the technical side of mucis can be taught... how to resolve a melody or how to create movement in a piece. Barbershop harmony with figured bass is the classic example

-- you do not need to have "talent" to create a piece from scratch to learn how a piece should end.

I was hoping from the title this was going to go in a different direction in the US we are classically trained -- we use the octave and 7/12 notes in an octave. Even without training if you hear classical chinese music it has totally different Basic rules. It was composed with a pentatonic scale versus the heptatonic scale you readily identify with. There are differences which make a melody so totally different based on structure its like a new language

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