A compact statistical model of the song syntax in Bengalese finch

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Mar;7(3):e1001108. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1001108. Epub 2011 Mar 17.


Songs of many songbird species consist of variable sequences of a finite number of syllables. A common approach for characterizing the syntax of these complex syllable sequences is to use transition probabilities between the syllables. This is equivalent to the Markov model, in which each syllable is associated with one state, and the transition probabilities between the states do not depend on the state transition history. Here we analyze the song syntax in Bengalese finch. We show that the Markov model fails to capture the statistical properties of the syllable sequences. Instead, a state transition model that accurately describes the statistics of the syllable sequences includes adaptation of the self-transition probabilities when states are revisited consecutively, and allows associations of more than one state to a given syllable. Such a model does not increase the model complexity significantly. Mathematically, the model is a partially observable Markov model with adaptation (POMMA). The success of the POMMA supports the branching chain network model of how syntax is controlled within the premotor song nucleus HVC, but also suggests that adaptation and many-to-one mapping from the syllable-encoding chain networks in HVC to syllables should be included in the network model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Finches / physiology*
  • Markov Chains
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Music
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*