Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Musical Notation

leamirella's picture

I tried to fit this in somewhere in my post because I thought it was a cool example of musical notation but I couldn't think of where to put it.

Last session's discussion about musical notation and its history got me really intrigued. I had never even considered music being written in any other way apart from what I was forced to learn when I was 5. (Many of my painful childhood memories involve sitting at a piano and doing scale after scale after scale.) However, when Tian showed us the notation of Miniwanka and gave that wonderful performance of 4'33, I formed more questions about the nature of information. During our discussion about information, we attempted to pinpoint just one definition for it and found that extremely hard. I think that this wasn't just because the concept of information was hard to define but, it was also that what we consider information (much like what we consider musical notation) has some sort of coherence but there are always parts of it that differ from the 'norm'.

I also want to talk about the coding and decoding aspect of both information and music. Both operate in the same sort of model where a person (a conductor or maybe, computer programmer) has to code the information in a way that they think people will be able to interpret it. This information is passed along, coded until reaches a decoder who then decodes it and releases the information from its coding. However, when we all attempted to do the Miniwanka piece, it became obvious to me that the decoding of information does not always stay the same. It is subject to whatever agent that acts as a decoder which is why the Miniwanka piece is different all the time.



aybala50's picture

was it just me

Throughout class on Wednesday I felt like I was being spoken to about a foreign language. I have never played a musical instrument, I do not sing and I don't know how to read music. I found myself wondering if there was a difference in how we viewed the discussion on Wednesday depending on whether there was previous knowledge of music and no prior knowledge of music. I remember taking a foreign language class in the past and honestly, they felt pretty similar to me. When we were going over the different sheets of music I found myself looking for patterns, but still I was lost. I do not know what each symbol meant and even if I saw a pattern I could still make no sense of it. I feel like this is how language may also be. There are symbols, there are certain expectations of each symbol and then there are patterns of symbols that have a meaning for those who decipher it. The missing aspect for me was mostly that I didn't know what the expectation was for each symbol.  

merlin's picture

Babies as decoders of music


To go along the same liines as the above posts which make shed light on the roles of the coder and decoder, I want to look at music for a second as the passage of information that requires a need for interpreted by the listener. I find it interesting to explore how different people can potentially find different complex meanings within the same music, but also how it seems possible, like language, for certain variations in music to be generally interpreted in a similar manner. For example, there are certain combinations of tone which can translate to "happy" or "sad" or "violent" and it is interesting to explore what about our brain structure causes us to come to this interpretation - not necessarily universally - but for the most part generally. Maybe our brains are somehow hardwired to make this distinction based mearly upon differences in tone and cadence. I did some research and found some studies that mention that children as young as young as 5 months can distinguish an upbeat, happier song from among sadder compositions and vice versa. THis really was intriguing in the context of the transmission of information and the role of the receiver in that transmission. I think that our brain structure in all it's complexity has something to do with that, and how maybe evolutionarily our brains are wired to have these similar reactions since the decoding process can be seen so early in children. This summarization of the article is very interesting..

rubikscube's picture


As both a computer programmer and a conductor, I liked what you said about coding and decoding information. I've never really thought of computer science and music as being especially related to each other, but in respect to decoding and encoding information, there definitely is a connection. Now that I think about it, my experiences with music and with computer science have both been very structured. Although a certain algorithm may be written in different ways, it should always have a consistent outcome. And with music, there can be slight variations with interpretation, but the notes are always the same. I've had a lot of trouble accepting pieces like "Miniwanka" to be music that's on an equal level as one of Brahms' symphonies, for example. It takes a certain amount of talent and skill to compose symphonic masterpieces, but modern music like "Miniwanka" seems to fail in comparison. Maybe I feel this way because I grew up listening mostly to baroque music, which always has a clear structure. Though I don't particularly like modern music like this, it's still interesting to learn about different ways that music can be interpreted, and how information can be decoded in different ways.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
9 + 10 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.