mmmm that sandwich looks tasty af – Shroomie Who We Are We are a handful of people from different parts of the world who share two passions – listening to…

Enhancing Melodies – Vocals in Jazz Music #3

While we kinda strayed off our initial path with the previous edition of VJM, we’re going back to actual singing with this one. BUT from now on I want this series to have at least some kind of scientific basis. This won’t even remotely make this a scientific article, but I guess we can still all pretend to be smarter at the end of this. With facts and scientific basis in mind we can much easier try to explain the different experiences we have when listening to music. That is why we’re starting this one by looking at the famous model of the working memory, originally proposed by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch in 1974.[mfn]Baddeley & Hitch – Working memory[/mfn]

How Does Our Working Memory Work?

Before we go further into how this all got to do with music, let’s first take a quick look at the model at hand. When talking about the working memory we have to distinguish it from the short-term memory, as they are kind of close concepts.[mfn]Wikipedia – Short-term Memory; Relationship with Working Memory[/mfn] Because we’re not very scientific here and you probably already struggle to pay attention (come on, I know you can do it) I’m going to make it very simple: The short-term memory is a theory about storing information briefly whereas the working memory is a theory about not only storing information briefly, but also processing it. In the first version of Baddeley’s model, the working memory consists of 3 components. The central executive, the visuo-spatial sketchpad and the phonological loop.

The central executive (again keeping it simple here) essentially is the boss of the other two components, gives their work to the long-term memory and doesn’t pay overtime. The visuo-spatial sketchpad temporarily stores and processes visual and spatial imagery. It’s pretty much irrelevant for our purposes right now aside from the fact that it doesn’t interfere with the phonological loop. The phonological loop basically does the same job, but with auditory information. The information is lost very quickly unless it gets “renewed” through rehearsing it. We do that all the time – i.e. when we want to remember a number to use it shortly thereafter, we rehearse it in our head (or aloud). Baddeley later added a fourth component, the episodic buffer, that links information between components of the working memory, perception and long-term memory.[mfn]Baddeley – The episodic buffer: a new component of working memory?[/mfn] It might be important, but right now it’s not, so it might as well not exist. Whatta ya gonna do, illegitimate my research? Well, fair.

Music And Working Memory

While there’s a lot of evidence that supports the theory of a phonological loop, there are debates about whether the PL is specialized for speech only or for other sounds of significance (like music) as well. And then there’s also me thinking How the fuck do I turn this into a Vocals in Jazz Music story?

In 1986 Pierre Salamé and Alan Baddeley found out that when recalling words, people would experience way more interference from speech than from static noise, and only a little more from (non-instrumental) music.[mfn]Salamé and Baddeley – Effects of Background Music on Phonological Short-Term Memory [/mfn] Even if that speech was a foreign language. Even if that speech was foreign language. Even if that speech was foreign language. I’m letting you rehearse that sentence in your phonological loop here because I think it’s an explanation we’ve been looking for. Just based off of that experiment we can say that human speech – no matter if intelligible words, foreign language or non-lexical vocables (such as “lalalala”) – grab our attention more than other sounds. Assuming singing is just like speech – we definitely prioritize singing in our phonological loop.

Enhancing Melodies

Given the above information it still leaves us with some gaps though, like whether we store the sung content simultaneously with the melody or whether we store/rehearse vocal melodies better than instrumental melodies. If we can answer those we can absolutely maybe pseudo-scientifically answer the question “Do vocals enhance melodies in our brain?”. I got a good bet, but I also found some papers to further investigate on this in later editions of VJM. Until then, let me give you two songs to ponder over (pretty nice piece of homework, if you ask me).

Cotonete – Layla

We’ve mentioned this song at least once or twice in this blog already, but it really deserves another round. Once you’ve listened to it, the melody won’t leave you for a while. It even followed Shroomie subconsciously through his sleep.

Palm Unit – Le piroguier

This was one of my highlights from September this year. The singing in Le piroguier is arguably not the center piece of this arrangement, but god damn it stays with you. And while the main melody is repeated very rarely compared to Layla, it still has a similar impact on me.

For me, both songs enhance the driving melodies. The fact that they don’t sing intelligible lyrics doesn’t stand in the way of that. Heck, it probably helps, since I know them by heart already!

You Still With Me?

If you stuck with me and actually enjoyed the involvement of some actual research by actual scientists, or have other suggestions, let me know and I’ll do more of it!

One thought on “Enhancing Melodies – Vocals in Jazz Music #3

  1. Great post Jojito ! I think maybe through our evolution we were programmed to recognize faces, voices/human sounds as a primal ability and it could be why it sticks so much with us. That is also why i would open the following question : Does it ‘enhance’ the melody, or does it get our more of our attention (even if subconsciously) ?
    I would argue that for example Pop music and its in-your-face beats doesn’t necessarily make music better, but it makes it stick in your head and makes it more popular.
    Don’t miss my next article : How jazz soldout by adding vocals to turn human built-in features into profit !

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