Modeling Intonation in Non-Western Musical Cultures

Open Access
Lapp, Samuel Mokhiber
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in Engineering Science and Music
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Matthew B Parkinson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Gary L Gray, Honors Advisor
  • Mark Edward Ballora, Honors Advisor
  • Judith A Todd Copley, Faculty Reader
  • music
  • intonation
  • tuning
  • non-western
  • arabic
  • western
  • modeling
  • harmony
  • consonance and dissonance
  • maqam
  • periodicity
  • scale
  • interval
Musical cultures around the world use tuning systems very different from the tuning system used in Western music. Comparing and contrasting intonation from various cultures could give insight into the question of learned versus innate preferences in the perception of music, and into the cultural development of musical traditions. However, methods for analyzing intonation in Western music have not been generalized to non-Western contexts. Flexible and non-discrete tuning used in cultures such as Arabic maqam music pose a challenge for analyzing intonation. This paper attempts to generalize Stolzenburg’s “Periodicity” method and Gill and Purves’ “Similarity” method for microtonal music, and finds that they are ill-suited for the analysis of Arabic music. An alternative approach is developed, which analyzes the relative intonation of a series of consecutive notes. This approach reveals that Arabic intonation is fundamentally different from Western and Chinese intonation. While Chinese and Western intonation are based on intervals from a fixed scale, Arabic intonation is based on a continuous spectrum of small intervals.