Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Tonal Expectations Influence Pitch Perception

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Tonal Expectations Influence Pitch Perception

Article excerpt

In this study, we investigated the influence of tonal relatedness on pitch perception in melodies. Tonal expectations for target tones were manipulated in melodic contexts while controlling sensory expectations, thus allowing us to assess specifically the influence of tonal expectations on pitch perception. Three experiments provided converging evidence that tonal relatedness modulates pitch perception in nonmusician listeners. Experiment 1 showed, with a rating task, the influence of the tonal relatedness of a target tone on listeners' judgments of tuning/mistuning. Experiment 2 showed, with a priming task, that pitch processing of in-tune tones was faster for tonally related targets than for less related targets. Experiment 3 showed, with a comparison task, that discrimination performance for small mistunings was better when the to-be-compared tones were tonally related to the melodic context. Findings are discussed in relation to psychoacoustic research on contextual pitch perception and to studies showing facilitation of early processing steps via knowledge- and attention-related processes.

Listening to music involves not just hearing successive sounds, but also expecting future events on the basis of previous events. Western tonal music contains complex regularities that elicit expectations about future musical events. Musical regularities are based both on simple patterns, such as tone repetition, melodic contour, and interval size, and on more abstract patterns, such as tonal structure. The former elicit low-level, bottom-up expectations (referred to hereafter as sensory expectations), and the latter elicit cognitive, knowledge-based expectations (referred to hereafter as cognitive expectations). Numerous studies have highlighted the role of tonal structure on musical processing (for reviews, see Bigand & Poulin-Charronnat, 2006; Frances, 1958/1988; Krumhansl, 1990; Tillmann, Bharucha, & Bigand, 2000). One of the key findings has been that even nonmusicians have acquired implicit knowledge of the abstract regularities defining tonal structure and that this knowledge allows for cognitive tonal expectancy formation. However, it remains to be shown which levels of music processing are influenced by cognitive expectations and whether these expectations can have perceptual effects. In the present study, we investigated the influence of listeners' tonal expectations on pitch processing. Using musical materials whose perception invoked listeners' tonal knowledge allowed us to investigate the influence of higher level, top-down processes on lowlevel perceptual processes. Studying the perceptual effects of tonal expectations thus extends psychoacoustic research that investigates-in addition to the operation of peripheral processors-the influence of more central factors on sound processing (e.g., Watson & Foyle, 1985).

Cognitive expectations in music perception can be linked to the tonal structure of the Western musical system. Tonal structure refers to an abstract system of relations among musical tones, which can be described in terms of contextually determined probabilities of occurrence (including association strengths). In the Western tonal system, 12 pitch classes (C, C#/D[musical flat], D, D#/E[musical flat], E, F, F#/G[musical flat], G, G#/A[musical flat], A, A#/B[musical flat], and B) are organized into subsets of 7 pitch classes that define tonalities (or keys). Inside a key, the 7 pitch classes are hierarchically organized in accordance with the importance of their tonal function. The highest rank in the tonal hierarchy is the tonic (i.e., the first degree of the musical scale), which is the most stable tonal function and represents the anchor point of a key (Krumhansl, 1990). The tonic usually serves as the terminal event in a musical phrase and produces a sense of closure and completion. In the tonal hierarchy, the tonic is followed by the dominant (the fifth degree of the scale), the mediant (the third degree), the subdominant (the fourth degree) and then the other in-key tones, with the leading tone (the seventh degree) being at the lowest rank in the tonal hierarchy among the in-key tones. …

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