Repeating something can render that thing melodious—even the sound of a shovel being dragged across the pavement. Karen Hopkin reports.
Music includes a lot of repetition. What would your favorite song be without a chorus? But the connection runs even deeper than that. Because the very act of repeating something can render that thing melodious—even the sound of a shovel being dragged across the pavement. That’s according to a study to be published soon in the journal Music & Science. [Rhimmon Simchy-Gross and Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, The Sound-to-Music Illusion: Repetition Can Musicalize Non-Speech Sounds, in press]
A few years back, psychologists at the University of California, San Diego, discovered that when words or phrases are repeated a few times, they can start to sound more like singing than speaking.
<<“The sounds as they appear to you are not only different from those that are really present, but they sometimes behave so strangely as to seem quite impossible. But they sometimes behave so strangely. Sometimes behave so strangely. Sometimes behave so strangely. So strangely. So strangely. So strangely. So strangely.” Credit: speech to song illusion/Deutsch>>
The effect is perhaps not entirely surprising. Talking and singing are both forms of vocal communication. But researchers got to wondering: could repetition also musicalize other types of sounds?
So they collected clips of 20 different environmental sounds…including water dripping, ice cracking, whales calling, and the aforementioned shovel. And they played the snippets to 58 undergraduates…first, as single sounds <<single whale call>> and then in a series with increasing reiteration <<whale call repeated>>.
What they found is that…as the repeats stacked up…the participants rated the sounds as being more tuneful.
“Repetition’s power to musicalize seems to extend to a broader variety of sounds than just speech.”
Elizabeth Margulis, director of the music cognition lab at the University of Arkansas, who led the study.
“These perceptual transformations are powerful because nothing changes in the acoustic signal itself. That is held fixed. Everything that sounds different comes from the mind itself, making these illusions particularly useful for understanding the musical mode of listening. What are we doing when we’re hearing something musically? How is this different from other kinds of hearing? These transformations allow us to tackle these kinds of questions head on.”
<<ice crack sound repeated>>
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]