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Analysis of World Music Special Interest Group
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Mission Statement

The primary objective of the SEM Analysis of World Music Special Interest Group is to provide a unique interdisciplinary platform from which to explore the panoply of global music traditions, both past and present, that lie outside the purview of Western art music from the broadest possible array of theoretical, cultural, historical, and analytical perspectives. This group is allied with the organization Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM) whose resources and activities include an on-line scholarly journal and website (aawmjournal.com) that is devoted to the analytic studies of world music and a biennial conference.


Interest Group Organizers

Beth Szczepanski (Lewis and Clark College), szczepbm@whitman.edu
Panayotis Mavromatis (New York University)


In conjunction with AAWM, the group sponsors and plans invited presentations, discussion forums, performances, special topic sessions, as well as workshops to be conducted at the SEM annual meeting.

2015 SEM Annual Meeting (Dec. 3-6, 2015, Austin, TX, hosted by the University of Texas at Austin)

Impossible Melodies: Pitch Paradoxes and Spectral Analysis in Traditional Shengguan music of North China

Beth Szczepanski (Lewis & Clark College)


Buddhist monks at Wutaishan in Shanxi Province, China perform melodies that seem to move to lower and lower pitches while actually remaining in the same narrow range. The instruments that produce this effect are the sheng mouth organ, dizi flute, and guanzi double-reed pipe. Shengguan ensembles like this are common throughout North China, particularly among Buddhist and Daoist ritual practitioners. Pitch paradoxes such as octave cycling have been documented in music of Africa and Europe, but this is the first such example from East Asia to receive scholarly attention.  In this presentation, I will demonstrate how spectral analysis of instrumental sounds point to a timbral explanation for this phenomenon.  I will also posit that scholars should be aware of the possibility of pitch paradox in their research of traditional Chinese music, and that their transcriptions and analysis should reflect this phenomenon when it is found.     


2013 SEM Annual Meeting Activities (November 14-17, 2013 – Indianapolis, Indiana
 Hosted by Indiana University Bloomington)

Analytical Approaches to Indian Music (sponsored by the SEM Analytical Approaches to World Music Special Interest Group)


Interest Group Organizers: Lawrence Shuster (AAWM)


Session Moderator: Lawrence Shuster (AAWM)




· Can Western Listeners Learn Raga Grammar Incidentally? Martin Rohrmeier and Richard Widdess (Massachusetts Institute of Technology; School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)




Musical knowledge, like native language knowledge, is largely implicit. Through interaction with a large number of samples, the subject learns a complex system of patterns, but they may have little or no awareness that they have done so. Such "implicit” or "incidental" learning constitutes a core process in human interaction with the environment, and plays a central role in musical enculturation.

Our experiment was motivated by two objectives. (1) A number of music psychology studies have investigated incidental learning of features of Western music, but very little work has been done with respect to music from other cultures. We wished to examine how far the melodic patterns of Indian classical music could be learned incidentally by listeners unfamiliar with that musical language. (2) Music psychology studies tend to use synthetic rather than ecologically valid stimuli, that is, artificially generated sound examples rather than examples taken from real performances. The validity of synthetic stimuli is always open to question, however, and especially so in a cross-cultural experimental context. We therefore chose to use materials recorded specially for the experiment by a professional Indian musician. Subjects listened to a short performance of either raga Todi or raga Multani, and were then asked to rate for familiarity novel excerpts from both ragas, using binary familiarity and 6-point confidence judgments.

Our findings indicate that subjects began to acquire incidentally familiarity with the melodic grammar of a raga, during only a very short exposure. Confidence ratings also indicate some awareness of the knowledge acquired. This research may help us to understand how musical patterns in any music may come to "make sense” to listeners previously unfamiliar with them, independently of formal pedagogy and with limited explicit awareness.


Keywords: incidental learning, raga, melodic grammar, North Indian classical music, music cognition, music and language

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