Interval Size and Phrase Position: A Comparison between German and Chinese Folksongs

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Empirical Musicology Review

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It is well known that the pitch of the voice tends to decline over the course of a spoken utterance. Ladd (2008) showed that there is also a tendency for the pitch range of spoken utterances to shrink as the pitch of the voice declines. Motivated by this work, two studies are reported that test for the existence of “late phrase compression” in music where the interval size tends to decline toward the end of a phrase. A study of 39,863 phrases from notated Germanic folksongs shows the predicted decline in interval size. However, a second study of 10,985 phrases from Chinese folksongs shows a reverse relationship. In fact, the interval behaviors in Chinese and Germanic folksongs provide marked contrasts: Chinese phrases are dominated by relatively large intervals, but begin with small intervals and end with medium-small intervals. Germanic phrases are dominated by relatively medium intervals, but begin with large intervals and end with small intervals. In short, late phrase interval compression is not evident cross-culturally.



Melody, culture, declination, late-phrase compression, contour, prosody


Empirical Musicology Review, v6 n4 (Oct. 2011), 187-197