Can musical transformations be implicitly learned?

Subject: Can musical transformations be implicitly learned?
From: Richard Nance (
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 18:39:58 EDT

Can musical transformations be implicitly learned?

Zoltán Dienes, and Christopher Longuet-Higgins

Department of Psychology, Sussex University, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9QG,
England, UK

Received 11 April 2003;  Revised 4 March 2004;  accepted 8 March 2004. 
Available online 18 May 2004.


The dominant theory of what people can learn implicitly is that they learn
chunks of adjacent elements in sequences. A type of musical grammar that
goes beyond specifying allowable chunks is provided by serialist or 12-tone
music. The rules constitute operations over variables and could not be
appreciated as such by a system that can only chunk elements together. A
series of studies investigated the extent to which people could implicitly
(or explicitly) learn the structures of serialist music. We found that
people who had no background in atonal music did not learn the structures,
but highly selected participants with an interest in atonal music could
implicitly learn to detect melodies instantiating the structures. The
results have implications for both theorists of implicit learning and
composers who may wish to know which structures they put into a piece of
music can be appreciated.

Author Keywords: Implicit learning; Music; Serialism; Chunks; Unconscious

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