Minds and Machines

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 329–344 | Cite as

Where does the end begin? Problems in musico-cognitive modeling

  • James Kippen
General Articles


Research with computer systems and musical grammars into improvisation as found in the tabla drumming system of North India has indicated that certain musical “sentences” comprise (a) variable prefixes, and (b) fixed suffixes (or “cadences”) identical with those of their original rhythmic “themes”. It was assumed that the cadence functioned as a kind of target in linear musical space, and yet experiments showed that defining what exactly constituted the cadence was problematic. This paper addresses the problem of the status of cadential patterns, and demonstrates the need for a better understanding and formalization of ambiguity in musico-cognitive processing. It would appear from the discussion that the cadence is not a discrete unit in itself, but just part of an ever-present underlying framework comprising the entire original rhythmic theme. Improvisations (variations), it is suggested, merely break away from and rejoin this framework at important structural points. This endorses the theory of simultaneity. However, the general cognitive implications are still unclear, and further research is required to explore musical ambiguity and the interaction of musical, linguistic, and spatio-motor grammars.

Key words

Tabla drumming improvisation formal grammars experimental ethnomusicology music cognition 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Kippen
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of MusicUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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