Date of Award

August 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



First Advisor

Mitchell Brauner

Committee Members

Gillian Rodger


Chant, Cognition, Ethiopian, Jerusalem, Orality, Transmission


This thesis examines the role of cognition in oral and written transmission. It looks at areas of music history where cognition is already used as a reference, including the development of notation, trends and changes in oral transmission, and performance practice. The thesis examines three different case studies on ritual chant in order to demonstrate how the cognitive process can be used to explain the ways learning, retention, and transmission work in oral and written transmission. The first case study is on the chant practices originating in Jerusalem. It discusses the intervallic relationships and music patterns involved in retention of chant, using pitch hierarchy and grouping structure. The second case study is on the Ethiopian Christian chant tradition. It illustrates how shared cognitive processes between oral and written traditions can help explain the ways oral and written traditions work together in preserving ritual. The last case study is on African and Afro-Cuban rituals derived from a common ancestor. It explores sound symbolism and the phonetics of language in chant, and how they work to maintain a stable ritual tradition. The study concludes that cognition plays a greater role in studying oral and written transmission than has been recognized heretofore in historical scholarship.