THE PROBLEM OF MELODY

L. L. THURSTONE
1920 The Musical Quarterly  
M ELODY is variously defined according to the point of view from which it is considered. The musical theorist necessarily adopts an empirical definition of melody which makes it conform with occidental standards of consonance, whereas the student of exotic music finds himself impelled to adopt a much broader definition to cover the heterophonous phenomena of primitive music. If we consider the structure and function of the ear according to the Helmholtz theory, we find certain analogies with
more » ... n analogies with the function of the other sense organs which it may not be unprofitable to follow out. The lateral displacement of the point of stimulation over the sensitive surface of a receptor yields, as its psychic correlate, the motor attribute of the sensation. The most obvious illustration of this fact is to be found in the case of the cutaneous sense departments in which a lateral shift of the stimulation point over the receptive surface gives undisputably the motor attribute of extension to the resulting sensation. Similarly we have the localizing motor attribute of visual sensations mediated by the location of the stimulation point on the retina. In the case of the olfactory sense department we do not of course discriminate as to the location of the stimulation point over the olfactory membrane, but this is due to the fact that such differentiation would not be of any significance in preserving the integrity of the organism, and hence it can not be expected to have developed. In the case of hearing the corresponding shift of the stimulation point consists in the selective innervation of the receptive cells in the basilar membrane. The attribute resulting from this shift should, by analogy, be the motor attribute of hearing and hence pitch should be the motor attribute of auditory sensation. Just as pitch in audition corresponds to a point location in cutaneous sensations, so pitch variation corresponds to a shift of the point of stimulation over the cutaneous surface, or a similar shift over the retina of the eye. The latter has for its psychic correlate the consciousness of movement and pitch variation is also essentially a consciousness of movement. It may be objected that any qualitative alteration, whatsoever, may be conceived as in 426
doi:10.1093/mq/vi.3.426 fatcat:oorrs456zndrrfibwjb6ldshuy