Communicative Pressure and the Evolution of Musical Style

David Temperley

Music functions, at least in part, to convey certain structures to the listener via a surface of notes. For musical communication to occur successfully, the structures must be recoverable from the surface. I argue that this consideration has been an important factor in the shaping of musical styles, and sheds light on a number of specific phenomena in stylistic evolution. These include the greater degree of syncopationand lower degree of rubato in traditional African music and rock versus common-practice music: the extensive use of rubato in pieces with consistent repeated patterns (e.g. much Romantic piano music); the rise of swing tempo and the higher degree of syncopation in jazz as opposed to ragtime; and the greater variety of chord-tones and lower tolerance for chordal inversion in jazz as opposed to common-practice music.