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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.668300

Melodic universals emerge or are sustained through cultural evolution Provisionally accepted The final, formatted version of the article will be published soon. Notify me

  • 1Leiden University, Netherlands
  • 2Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, Netherlands
  • 3Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), Netherlands
  • 4Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands

To understand why music is structured the way it is, we need an explanation that accounts for both the universality and variability found in musical traditions. Here we test whether statistical universals that have been identified for melodic structures in music can emerge as a result of cultural adaptation to human biases through iterated learning. We use data from an experiment in which artificial whistled systems, where sounds were produced with a slide whistle, were learned by human participants and transmitted multiple times from person to person. These sets of whistled signals needed to be memorized and recalled and the reproductions of one participant were used as the input set for the next. We tested for the emergence of seven different melodic features, such as discrete pitches, motivic patterns, or phrase repetition, and found some evidence for the presence of most of these statistical universals. We interpret this as promising evidence that, similarly to rhythmic universals, iterated learning experiments can also unearth melodic statistical universals. More, ideally cross-cultural, experiments are nonetheless needed. Simulating the cultural transmission of artificial proto-musical systems can help unravel the origins of universal tendencies in musical structures.

Keywords: cultural transmission, Music, Melodic universals, iterated learning, continuous signals

Received: 16 Feb 2021; Accepted: 05 Jul 2021.

Copyright: © 2021 Verhoef and Ravignani. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Andrea Ravignani, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, 6525, Gelderland, Netherlands,