Music functions, at least in part, to convey certain structures to the listener via a surface of notes. For communication to occur successfully, the structures must be recoverable from the surface. I argue that this consideration has been an important factor in the shaping of musical styles, and sheds light on a number of phenomena: the greater degree of syncopation and lower degree of rubato in traditional African music and rock versus common-practice music; the extensive use of rubato in pieces with consistent repeated patterns (e.g., much Romantic piano music); the rise of swing tempo and the higher degree of syncopation in jazz as opposed to ragtime; and the greater variety of chord-tones and lower tolerance for chordal inversion in jazz as opposed to common-practice music.

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