Nevin Manimala Statistics

Convergent evolution in a large cross-cultural database of musical scales

PLoS One. 2023 Dec 13;18(12):e0284851. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0284851. eCollection 2023.


Scales, sets of discrete pitches that form the basis of melodies, are thought to be one of the most universal hallmarks of music. But we know relatively little about cross-cultural diversity of scales or how they evolved. To remedy this, we assemble a cross-cultural database (Database of Musical Scales: DaMuSc) of scale data, collected over the past century by various ethnomusicologists. Statistical analyses of the data highlight that certain intervals (e.g., the octave, fifth, second) are used frequently across cultures. Despite some diversity among scales, it is the similarities across societies which are most striking: step intervals are restricted to 100-400 cents; most scales are found close to equidistant 5- and 7-note scales. We discuss potential mechanisms of variation and selection in the evolution of scales, and how the assembled data may be used to examine the root causes of convergent evolution.

PMID:38091315 | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0284851

By Nevin Manimala

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