Testing Cognitive Theories by Creating a Pattern-Based Probabilistic Algorithm for Melody and Rhythm in Jazz Improvisation

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Building on previous work, which suggests that jazz improvisers insert patterns stored in procedural memory, a probabilistic model based on patterns from a corpus of Charlie Parker solos was developed and implemented. In previous analysis, patterns were detected in the corpus in significant proportions; however, the results of a parallel control situation showed minimal patterns. The control improvisation was generated by software based on grammars and contours, coincident with the cognitive position that emphasizes learned rule-based procedures in improvisation, as opposed to stored patterns. The present pattern-based improvisations, using our model, have graphs that coincide significantly with the actual human improvisation. Though briefly described earlier (Norgaard, Montiel, & Spencer, 2013), the current article expands the theoretical foundation and adds methods for evaluating our algorithm using interval distributions and alternate corpora. Specifically, we show that the algorithm is capable of generating improvisations in fiddle and classical styles, demonstrating that the pattern-based algorithm is style independent. Our model shows much promise both for future research in the cognitive underpinnings of musical improvisation as well as for the development of software based on a stylistically appropriate concatenation of actual patterns.

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