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October 2021

The effect of modulation and formal manipulation on perception of tonic closure by expert listeners

Author(s): Brinkman, A.

Journal/Book: Music Percept. 1999; 16: Journals Dept 2120 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. Univ Calif Press. 389-407.

Abstract: This study arises in response to previous research that calls into question the ability of musically trained listeners to perceive tonal closure in the original tonic key. In our Experiment 1, 36 experienced musicians heard 12 randomly ordered excerpts from piano and orchestral works in three categories: nonmodulating, modulating to the dominant, modulating to a key other than the dominant. After hearing each excerpt, participants answered six questions, one of which asked whether the concluding key was the same as the initial one. Participants correctly answered this question at above-chance levels, with music academics (theorists and musicologists) more accurate than other musicians. In Experiment 2, 33 experienced musicians heard MIDI performances of six Handel keyboard compositions. On each trial, participants heard either the original composition or one of two variants with phrase units rearranged. Trials were quasi-randomly ordered so that an original and variant were not heard in succession. Three types of tonal motion resulted from our formal manipulation: the stimulus began and ended in the tonic key, began and ended in the dominant key, or began and ended in different keys. After hearing each work, participants answered seven questions, of which data were analyzed for three: whether the beginning and ending key were the same, whether the harmonic structure conformed to stylistic expectations, and whether the final key was the tonic. Participants' accuracy on the beginning/ending key question was no better than chance would predict; however listeners were able to discriminate between works that ended in the tonic key and those that did not. Unlike Experiment 1, we found no significant differences in accuracy between music academics and other musicians. Listeners generally found both the original and the manipulated compositions to conform to stylistic expectations, possibly because they attended to local harmonic relationships rather than global ones.

Note: Article Marvin EW, Univ Rochester, Eastman Sch Mus, Dept Mus Theory, 26 Gibbs St, Rochester,NY 14604 USA

Keyword(s): PLAYING STYLE; INSTRUMENTATION; MOVEMENT


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