On the non-existence of music: Why music theory is a figment of the imagination

Wiggins, Geraint; Müllensiefen, Daniel and Pearce, Marcus T.. 2010. On the non-existence of music: Why music theory is a figment of the imagination. Musicae Scientiae, Discussion Forum, 5, pp. 231-255. [Article]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

We argue for an approach to the theory of music which starts from the position that music is primarily a construct of human minds (and secondarily a social construct) and contrast it with the approach implicit in the work of some music theorists, which treats music as though it were an externally defined quasi-Platonic absolute. We argue that a natural conclusion of this approach is that music theory, while already being a kind of folk psychology, can benefit from being more explicitly informed by music cognition studies. We give examples from work in the computational modelling of music cognition, following our approach, which attempts to place each musical phenomenon in an ecological context motivated by evolutionary considerations, and which aims to explain musical phenomena independently of the explicit intervention of the theorist. We argue that only thus can a theory be said veridically to explicate the phenomenology of music. We place our argument in context of the Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983), Generative Linguistics, and other papers in the current volume, and compare them all with results of modelling studies based on our espoused approach.

Item Type:


Departments, Centres and Research Units:




Item ID:


Date Deposited:

28 Mar 2011 09:17

Last Modified:

04 Jul 2017 10:17

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



Edit Record Edit Record (login required)