If music were another language,

I’d be truly mute. I have learned a lot of its vocabulary, I know a bit about its grammar, I can understand some of its “speakers” but I can’t, for the life of me, produce it. I know that you don’t have to be musical to be able to learn languages, but what advantage would be, say, perfect pitch?

Perfect pitch is actually a disadvantage for a musician. Many people with absolute pitch suffer immensely when doing music. They cannot sing a transposed tune, they get irritated when an instrument is not tuned to the concert pitch, they have troubles understanding the concept of relative pitch (which is what most music is all about), etc.

Relative pitch, on the other hand, may be advantageous to learning some highly tonal languages (Swedish, Chinese).

Re your supposed inability to produce music: I’m sure you can sing or hum. The human voice is a musical instrument, and a very versatile one, too.

The bit about relative pitch is interesting in relation to my learning of Swedish: it took me a long time before I was able to distinguish words in spoken LingQ lessons. The tonal difference in the two “anden” I still can’t hear and therefore not produce properly. (As to my singing… at the grand old age of 61 I took a leap of faith and went to a teacher who worked with people who can’t sing. It was the most courageous thing I ever did. These days, I still can’t what I call “sing”, but I now am no longer afraid to join in when people sing Happy Birthday! I’m the one who goes mmmmmmmmmmm).

I believe that music is like language in that it is using the brain’s primary functions, pattern matching and prediction - in much the same way as we use language but without the recursive symbolic meanings that exist in language, which is convenient since we could then add an additional layer of lyrics to a song or a dance to have an even greater musical experience.

What strikes me as truly amazing is that the output follows a similar path to language. I play the piano, I’ve played from a very young age and I’m able to play western-style music, contemporary etc. When I had to produce a different “type” of music (it was new style rnb in 2008/2009 and now electro in 2009/2010) i found that even though I was quite capable of listening to and appreciating these forms of music I wasn’t able to “produce” them. when a tune came into my head, it was of the old style of music that I had been doing 10 years ago when I last was in to this piano playing / musical composition game.

It was only after much concentration, analysis, attempts and failures over around a 12 month period that I actually started to “come up” or “think up” of tunes that were in the appropriate genre of music that I was attempting to compose for. This would include tempo of all things (the previous tunes were always too slow, for example) and the new musical patters properly matched the precussive sequences that I’d later layer on etc, etc… my point is that the musical output behaviour of my attempts at playing different musical genres seemed to match very closely to human languages in that I was unable to simply switch between musical styles, as if they were embedded in my brain as a separate language with its own set of grammatical rules and a long period of time was required to “build up” this pattern matching / pattern creation skill before any reasonable output could be expected.

Perhaps it is the same with language in that there are many people who can understand 2nd or 3rd languages but are unable to speak… with music I take it as an affinity towards a certain musical genre and after trying to recreate it, develop these “output” abilities much later on. I didn’t particularly have any like for “electro” music, it was actually quite irritating for me to listen to. I imagine that once my brain started to get used to these patterns it became pleasureable (input / anticipation / pattern matching) which then lead after trial and error to musical compositions in that genre (via following through these pattern matches and anticipation of these patterns) much the same way, perhaps, as I’m sitting here typing out this sentence… the words are just coming off the top of my head as fast or faster than my fingers can type them. It’s amazing when you think about it - and the fact that practically every human is capable of such feats, the ubiquity of such skills is really a human-defining trait.

They also found that other species that can “talk” such as some forms of birds, actually are able to “groove” with music. in other words, brains that comprehend language and can output language can enjoy music. this is an amazing discovery and it’s probably why my parents dogs never grooved in time with the radio or songs on tv. they just didn’t get it. plenty of videos on youtube of birds following / dancing to music. hope this all helps with your insight into music and language.


Wow, thank you both SO much!