Rhythm Changes: Notes on Some Genetic Elements in Musical Culture

11 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2015

Date Written: January 15, 2015


An entity known as Rhythm Changes is analyzed as a genetic entity in musical culture. Because it functions to coordinate the activities of musicians who are playing together it can be called a coordinator. It is a complex coordinator in that it is organized on five or six levels, each of which contains coordinators that function in other musical contexts. Musicians do not acquire (that is, learn) such a coordinator through “transfer” from one brain to another. Rather, they learn to construct it from publically available performance materials. This particular entity is derived from George Gershwin’s tune “I Got Rhythm” and is the harmonic trajectory of that tune. But it only attained independent musical status after about two decades of performances. Being a coordinator is thus not intrinsic to the entity itself, but is rather a function of how it comes to be used in the musical system. Recent argument suggests that biological genes are like this as well.

Keywords: music, cultural evolution, memetics, memes, jazz, swing, evolution

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., Rhythm Changes: Notes on Some Genetic Elements in Musical Culture (January 15, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2550339 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2550339

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