Musical syntax I: Theoretical perspectives

Martin Rohrmeier, Marcus Pearce

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearch


The understanding of musical syntax is a topic of fundamental importance for systematic musicology and lies at the core intersection of music theory and analysis, music psychology, and computational modeling. This chapter discusses the notion of musical syntax and its potential foundations based on notions such as sequence grammaticality, expressive unboundedness, generative capacity, sequence compression and stability. Subsequently, it discusses problems concerning the choice of musical building blocks to be modeled as well as the underlying principles of sequential structure building. The remainder of the chapter reviews the main theoretical proposals that can be characterized under different mechanisms of structure building, in particular approaches using finite-context or finite-state models as well as tree-based models of context-free complexity (including the Generative Theory of Tonal Music) and beyond. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the main issues and questions driving current research and a preparation for the subsequent empirical chapter Musical Syntax II.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpringer Handbooks
EditorsRolf Bader
Number of pages14
Place of publicationBerlin
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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