A biological basis for musical tonality

  • Daniel Bowling
  • Dale Purves


Like other sensory qualities, the human ability to perceive tonal sound stimuli has presumably evolved because of its utility. Although a variety of tonal sounds are present in the human auditory environment, the vocalizations of other humans are the most biologically relevant and the most frequently experienced. It is thus reasonable to assume that our appreciation of tonal sounds has arisen primarily for the benefits that accrue from this conspecific information. It follows that the structure and function of the tonal sounds produced by the human vocal apparatus may provide the key to understanding how and why we perceive tonality in music the way that we do. Here we consider recent evidence that bears on this idea.


Fundamental Frequency Chromatic Scale Minor Scale Pitch Height Musical Tonality 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag/Wien 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Bowling
    • 1
  • Dale Purves
    • 1
  1. 1.NeurobiologyDuke-NUS Graduate Medical SchoolSingaporeSingapore

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