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November 14, 2012 / JayMan

A musical brain

Here’s a song that I came across today. I can’t understand the lyrics, but its solemn tone is striking.

I had stumbled on this group’s performances before, after reading a post discussing how musical components may be influenced by the relative cognitive strengths of the people who produce them. See here over at Dusk in Autumn:

First, I’m discussing music composition — not performance or criticism. The two central features of music I examined were were melody (roughly, how a “voice” develops through time) and harmony (roughly, how separate melodic voices interact with each other or how they’re stacked on top of each other at any given moment). These are thus often referred to as the “horizontal” and “vertical” aspects of music, respectively. The two central features of cognitive ability I examined are the verbal and spatial “shadows” of g (different particular shapes cast by a single general factor), as measured by standard IQ tests. I noticed a similarity between melody and verbal skills, which deal with mostly serial processes, and between harmony and spatial skills, which deal with more parallel or simultaneous processes.

East Asians, whose cognitive abilities are biased towards spatial ability, tend to give emphasis to harmony in their music. Perhaps this music appeals to my Chinese side. 🙂

I will add that Blacks have been noted to have a stronger sense of rhythm; I do also like things with a good beat, such as this.




Leave a Comment
  1. e / Nov 14 2012 5:02 PM

    Music is a hidden arithmetic exercise of the soul, which does not know that it is counting.
    –Gottfried Leibniz

  2. citi / Nov 29 2012 2:18 AM

    Its slowness and solemnity are reminiscent of Sigur Ros. Maybe not quite the level of discipline which is what you’re looking for, but, you never lose by listening to them. Check out, maybe, ‘Glosoli’ and ones from their albums ‘( )’ and ‘Valtari’.

  3. Matt / Dec 10 2012 8:18 AM

    Ugh… A dirge…. I’m all for the blues and solemn classical, renaissance and medieval music, but…

    Re: cognitive strengths – I wonder where the complex polyrhythms of the pygmies fit into this…

    To me, inherently it would seem to make sense to associate layered music (harmonic, polyphonic or polyrhythmic) more with visual abilities, not spatial abilities.

    To explain, there is, roughly, a separation in the brain between a “ventral” (temporal lobe) object detail processing pathway and a “dorsal” (parietal lobe) spatial processing pathway.

    See – “[b]The two-streams hypothesis is a widely accepted and influential model of the neural processing of vision.[1][/b] The hypothesis, given its most popular characterisation in a paper by David Milner and Melvyn A. Goodale in 1992, argues that humans possess two distinct visual systems.[2] [b]As visual information exits the occipital lobe, it follows two main pathways, or “streams”. The ventral stream (also known as the “what pathway”) travels to the temporal lobe and is involved with object identification and recognition. The dorsal stream (or, “how pathway”) terminates in the parietal lobe and is involved with processing the objects spatial location relevant to the viewer.”[/b]

    The ventral stream is associated with a holistic / gestalt “All at once” form of visual processing, while the dorsal stream (the spatial stream) is sequential.- like language. e.g. – Table 1.

    East Asians are enriched in a holistic processing style –“Behavioral and eye-tracking studies on cultural differences have found that while Westerners have a bias for analytic processing and attend more to face features, East Asians are more holistic and attend more to contextual scenes.”

    They are also strong in the visual arts, an ability which is not formally assessed by the SAT. Asian kids are the kids who are good at math, yes, but they are more the kids who draw.

    Of course, East Asians are good at spatial processing as well, but comparing Ashkenazi Jews, Standard Average Europeans and East Asians, I reckon that the difference will be the East Asians have elevated visual detail and spatial ability, with normal verbal ability, Ashkenazis with have elevated verbal and spatial skills (they’re just way too good at math to have typical spatial ability), with normal visual detail ability and Europeans will have an “even” profile.

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