Musical Grammar

Robert O. Gjerdingen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This article discusses musical grammar and the factors that shape it, including the psychological abilities and constraints that determine what humans can learn, remember, and reproduce. It illustrates the notion of musical grammar by imagining how music works and is explained in a fictional world-the land of Bijou. Bijouan music has similarities to an artificial music used in a recent empirical study of how listeners can learn a musical grammar through repeated exposure to an initially unfamiliar type of music. The article examines the laws of harmony, the principle of chordal inversion, the many meanings of musical grammar, the operations of syntax, and the importance of memory before concluding with a description of how musical grammar was taught in the conservatories of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Critical Concepts in Music Theory
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780190454746
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Carla hudson kam
  • Chord morphology
  • Chordal inversion
  • David wessel
  • Laws of harmony
  • Leonard b. meyer
  • Memory
  • Musical grammar
  • Psyche loui
  • Syntax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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