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Listeners perceive complex pitch-temporal structure in melodies

Prince, J.B.ORCID: 0000-0002-8267-9963, Tan, S.E.J. and Schmuckler, M.A. (2019) Listeners perceive complex pitch-temporal structure in melodies. Memory & Cognition, 48 (4). pp. 526-540.

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In typical Western music, important pitches occur disproportionately often on important beats, referred to as the tonal-metric hierarchy (Prince & Schmuckler, 2014, Music Perception, 31, 254–270). We tested whether listeners are sensitive to this alignment of pitch and temporal structure. In Experiment 1, the stimuli were 200 artificial melodies with random pitch contours; all melodies had both a regular beat and a pitch class distribution that favored one musical key, but had either high or low agreement with the tonal-metric hierarchy. Thirty-two listeners rated the goodness of each melody, and another 41 listeners rated the melodies’ metric clarity (how clear the beat was). The tonal-metric hierarchy did not affect either rating type, likely because the melodies may have only weakly (at best) established a musical key. In Experiment 2, we shuffled the pitches in 60 composed melodies (scrambling pitch contour, but not rhythm) to generate versions with high and low agreement with the tonal-metric hierarchy. Both ratings of goodness (N = 40) and metric clarity (N = 40) revealed strong evidence of the tonal-metric hierarchy influencing ratings; there was no effect of musical training. In Experiment 3, we phase-shifted, rather than shuffled, the pitches from the composed melodies, thus preserving pitch contour. Both rating types (goodness N = 43, metric clarity N = 32) replicated the results of Experiment 2. These findings establish the psychological reality of the tonal-metric hierarchy.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Psychology, Counselling, Exercise Science and Chiropractic
Publisher: The Psychonomic Society
Copyright: © 2020 Springer Nature Switzerland AG.
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