Similarity Continua and Criteria in Memetic Theory and Analysis


  • Dr Steven Jan University of Huddersfield


Similarity, memetics, museme, Earth-Mover’s Distance, mutation


The aim of this article is to schematize and quantify certain of the similarity relationships which are relevant to the application of memetics to music, in order to sketch a methodology by which evolutionarily significant resemblances (particularly in the melodic dimension) might be evaluated. The degree of similarity between two musical patterns is central in memetics, because the determination of whether homology (similarity resulting from replication), as opposed to analogy (similarity arising fortuitously), is operative in particular transmission situations often hinges upon it. After outlining David Cope’s five categories of melodic similarity and relating them to memetics, the Earth-Mover’s Distance (EMD) metric is discussed and its relevance to the psychological, evolutionary, and neurobiological aspects of similarity is evaluated. It is argued that the EMD may be used to quantify both the perceptual-cognitive salience intrinsic to musemes, and the effort required in mutating a museme from a “source” (evolutionarily earlier) to a “copy” (evolutionarily later) form, the latter understood as an index of similarity. These ideas are brought together by means of an analysis of a short passage from the finale of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 106 (“Hammerklavier”), which applies various weighting schemes to the EMD calculations.

Author Biography

Dr Steven Jan, University of Huddersfield

Steven Jan is Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Huddersfield. He studied music at the University of Leeds and went on to complete a PhD there, entitled ‘Aspects of Mozart’s Music in G Minor: Toward the Identification of Common Structural and Compositional Characteristics’, under the supervision of Professor Julian Rushton. The dissertation was published by Garland in 1995 in their Outstanding Dissertations in Music from British Universities series. Before joining the Music Department at Huddersfield, he taught at the University of East Anglia and the Royal Northern College of Music. His research interests lie in the fields of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century music, theory and analysis, computer-aided musicology, and the application to music of theoretical and analytical perspectives drawn from evolutionary theory, particularly the ‘meme’ paradigm first expounded in Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. His The Memetics of Music: A Neo-Darwinian View of Musical Structure and Culture, the first book-length exposition of this subject, was published in 2007 by Ashgate. He has published articles in Music Analysis, the International Journal of Musicology, the Journal of the Royal Musical Association, Computer Music Journal, Musicae Scientiae, Music Theory Online, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, the Journal of Music Research Online and Language and Cognition.




How to Cite

Jan, S. B. (2022). Similarity Continua and Criteria in Memetic Theory and Analysis. Journal of Music Research Online, 5. Retrieved from