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Why Do Skips Precede Reversals? The Effect of Tessitura on Melodic Structure

Paul Von Hippel and David Huron
Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Vol. 18, No. 1 (Fall, 2000), pp. 59-85
DOI: 10.2307/40285901
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40285901
Page Count: 27
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Why Do Skips Precede Reversals? The Effect of Tessitura on Melodic Structure
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Abstract

In melodies from a wide variety of cultures, a large pitch interval tends to be followed by a change of direction. Although this tendency is often attributed to listeners' expectations, it might arise more simply from constraints on melodic ranginess or tessitura. Skips tend toward the extremes of a melody's tessitura, and from those extremes a melody has little choice but to retreat by changing direction. Statistical analyses of vocal melodies from four different continents are consistent with this simple explanation. The results suggest that, in the sampled repertoires, patterns such as "gap-fill," "registral direction," and "registral return" (L. Meyer, 1956, 1973; E. Narmour, 1990) are mere side effects of constraints on melodic tessitura.

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