Music as Biology: What We Like to Hear and Why

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About this course: The course will explore the tone combinations that humans consider consonant or dissonant, the scales we use, and the emotions music elicits, all of which provide a rich set of data for exploring music and auditory aesthetics in a biological framework. Analyses of speech and musical databases are consistent with the idea that the chromatic scale (the set of tones used by humans to create music), consonance and dissonance, worldwide preferences for a few dozen scales from the billions that are possible, and the emotions elicited by music in different cultures all stem from the relative similarity of musical tonalities and the characteristics of voiced (tonal) speech. L…

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When you enroll for courses through Coursera you get to choose for a paid plan or for a free plan

  • Free plan: No certicification and/or audit only. You will have access to all course materials except graded items.
  • Paid plan: Commit to earning a Certificate—it's a trusted, shareable way to showcase your new skills.

About this course: The course will explore the tone combinations that humans consider consonant or dissonant, the scales we use, and the emotions music elicits, all of which provide a rich set of data for exploring music and auditory aesthetics in a biological framework. Analyses of speech and musical databases are consistent with the idea that the chromatic scale (the set of tones used by humans to create music), consonance and dissonance, worldwide preferences for a few dozen scales from the billions that are possible, and the emotions elicited by music in different cultures all stem from the relative similarity of musical tonalities and the characteristics of voiced (tonal) speech. Like the phenomenology of visual perception, these aspects of auditory perception appear to have arisen from the need to contend with sensory stimuli that are inherently unable to specify their physical sources, leading to the evolution of a common strategy to deal with this fundamental challenge.

Created by:  Duke University
  • Taught by:  Dale Purves, M.D.

    Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
Language English, Subtitles: Spanish How To Pass Pass all graded assignments to complete the course. User Ratings 4.1 stars Average User Rating 4.1See what learners said Coursework

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Syllabus


WEEK 1


Course Introduction
Introduction to Music as Biology


1 video, 2 readings expand


  1. Reading: A Word About the Course
  2. Video: Welcome to Music as Biology
  3. Discussion Prompt: Music as Biology: In Your Own Words
  4. Reading: Feedback surveys


Sound Signals, Sound Stimuli, and the Human Auditory System
An overview of the organization of the human auditory system, and how sound signals are transformed into sound stimuli.


4 videos, 3 readings expand


  1. Reading: Module Resources
  2. Reading: An Overview of the Human Auditory System
  3. Video: Organization of the Auditory System
  4. Video: Sound Signals and Sound Stimuli
  5. Discussion Prompt: Distinction Between Sound Signal and Sound Stimuli
  6. Video: Tones versus Noise
  7. Discussion Prompt: Harmonic Series
  8. Video: Determining the Sources of Sound Stimuli
  9. Discussion Prompt: Auditory Perception
  10. Reading: Feedback survey
  11. Discussion Prompt: Thinking About Music as Biology: Week 1

Graded: Sound Signals, Sound Stimuli, and the Human Auditory System

WEEK 2


The Perception of Sound Stimuli
An introduction to the sound qualities we perceive, and how and why these qualities differ from the information in sound signals.


5 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Reading: Module Resources
  2. Video: Loudness and Intensity
  3. Video: Pitch and Frequency
  4. Video: Timbre and its Causes
  5. Discussion Prompt: Correlates and How They Differ
  6. Video: Observation and Linguistics
  7. Video: Auditory Objects and Scenes
  8. Discussion Prompt: Thinking About Music as Biology: Week 2
  9. Reading: Feedback survey

Graded: The Perception of Sound Stimuli

WEEK 3


Vocalization and Vocal Tones
A discussion of the nature of vocal sound signals, their biological importance and their role in understanding music.


5 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Reading: Module Resources
  2. Video: The Production of Vocal Sound Signals
  3. Discussion Prompt: Human Vocalization
  4. Video: The Perception of Vocal Sound Signals
  5. Video: The Perception of Intensity (Loudness) in Empirical Terms
  6. Video: The Perception of Frequency (Pitch) in Empirical Terms
  7. Discussion Prompt: Share Your Work!
  8. Video: Relationship of Vocalization to Music
  9. Discussion Prompt: Thinking About Music as Biology: Week 3
  10. Reading: Feedback survey

Graded: Vocalization and Vocal Tones

WEEK 4


Defining Music and Exploring Why We Like It
The tonal phenomena that need to be explained in any theory of music, and different approaches that have been take to provide answers.


9 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Reading: Module Resources
  2. Discussion Prompt: Defining Music
  3. Video: Defining Music
  4. Video: The Chromatic Scale and Some Musical Terminology
  5. Discussion Prompt: Share Your Work!
  6. Video: Consonance and Dissonance
  7. Video: Tonality vs. Atonality: Frequency of Consonant vs. Dissonant Intervals
  8. Video: Tension and Resolution
  9. Video: Cadences
  10. Discussion Prompt: Explanations of Consonance
  11. Video: Mathematical Explanations of Consonance
  12. Video: A Physical Explanation of Consonance
  13. Video: A Biological Explanation of Consonance
  14. Reading: Feedback survey

Graded: Defining Music and Exploring Why We Like It

WEEK 5


Musical Scales
Why a small number of basic scales are used in music worldwide, and how a biological framework explains this and related puzzles.


6 videos, 2 readings expand


  1. Reading: Module Resources
  2. Video: Defining Scales and Modes
  3. Discussion Prompt: Tuning Systems
  4. Video: The Small Number of Scales Used
  5. Discussion Prompt: Scales
  6. Video: Testing a Biological Explanation of Scale Preference
  7. Discussion Prompt: Biological Explanation of Scale Preference
  8. Video: Why Is the Number of Intervals in Scales So Limited?
  9. Video: The Status of the Chromatic Scale and the Semitone in Biological Terms
  10. Video: Is Music Uniquely Human?
  11. Reading: Feedback survey

Graded: Musical Scales

WEEK 6


Music, Emotion, and Cultural Differences
How emotion is conveyed by vocal similarity in music across cultures, and how the speech of a culture and its music are related. A summing up of the major points in the course follows.


7 videos, 4 readings expand


  1. Reading: Module Resources
  2. Video: Introduction to Emotion
  3. Discussion Prompt: Relevancy of Emotion
  4. Video: Emotions Elicited by Major versus Minor Scales
  5. Reading: Mozart Variation 8, "Minor"
  6. Reading: Mozart Variation 9, "Major"
  7. Video: Comparision of Major and Minor Music with Vocalization in Different Emotional States
  8. Video: Expression of Emotion in Eastern and Western Music
  9. Video: Language, Speech, and Cultural Differences in Music
  10. Video: Mbira Music: Background and Cyclical Structures
  11. Video: Mbria Music: Nonhamronic Frequencies
  12. Discussion Prompt: Culturally Different Music
  13. Discussion Prompt: Your Takeaway
  14. Discussion Prompt: Music as Biology: Summing Up
  15. Reading: Feedback survey

Graded: Music, Emotion, and Cultural Differences
Graded: Summing Up

Additional Resources
Additional demonstrations and commentaries by Ruby Froom on some of the musical issues considered in the course, as well as a glossary of terms and bibliography for references.


6 videos, 16 readings expand


  1. Video: Mozart: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  2. Reading: Mozart Theme
  3. Reading: Mozart Variation 2, ornamentation
  4. Reading: Mozart Variation 5, rhythmic sync
  5. Reading: Mozart Variation 8, "Minor"
  6. Reading: Mozart Variation 9, "Major"
  7. Video: Derivations of the Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales
  8. Reading: Minor Scale Analysis in BWV 002
  9. Video: Cadences
  10. Reading: Music Theory Rules
  11. Reading: BWV 002 Harmonic Analysis
  12. Reading: BWV 65.2 Harmonic Analysis
  13. Reading: BWV 133.6 Harmonic Analysis
  14. Video: Berg Lieder
  15. Reading: Schliesse Mir Die Augen Beide
  16. Reading: Tonal Version Sheet Music
  17. Reading: Atonal Version Sheet Music
  18. Video: Background and Cyclical Structure
  19. Video: Nonharmonic Frequencies
  20. Reading: Glossary A-O
  21. Reading: Glossary P-W
  22. Reading: Bibliography
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