The emergence of local expectations in listeners of music has been occasionally explained by assuming a sort of musical syntax or grammar. While sharing some superficial qualities, music and language structures are working differently: language syntax is organized in a hierarchical system, working only context-sensitively (the applicability of syntactical rules is influenced by the context), whereas musical structures, especially harmonic progressions, emerge mainly out of constructive, context-dependent processes (the context is able to establish completely new structural principles). Collected examples from musical literature of western tonal music across styles and epochs show five main principles of musical structure-building that distinguish musical models from syntactical rules: Constructivity, mappability, contextuality, individuality and contingence. The main influence of frame and context on musical expectations can be especially demonstrated by means of a harmonic progression frequently used in empirical studies as assumed syntactical violation: the neapolitan sixth chord succeeding the dominant. As a consequence, a re-interpretation of the empirical data should consider the specific context of the observed effects: they might be more a result of the introduction of the listener to a redundant stylistic model instead of the application of syntactical rules proper. According to the provided examples, structural expectations of listeners appear to be rather combinations of general familiarity to styles and composition principles, individual preferences and local framing. Based on these historical and systematic arguments, the structure of music seems to be flexible and integrative, and not bound to a syntax system.
!KF - Institute for Artistic Research Berlin / HSU - Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg / UdK - University of Arts Berlin