A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Tonality Perception in Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and American Listeners

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Abstract

We investigated tonal perception of melodies from 2 cultures (Western and traditional Japanese) by 5 different cultural groups (44 Japanese, 25 Chinese, 16 Vietnamese, 18 Indonesians, and 25 U.S. citizens). Listeners rated the degree of “melodic completeness” of the final tone (a tonic vs. a nontonic) and “happiness–sadness” in the mode (major vs. minor, YOH vs. IN) of each melody. When Western melodies were presented, American and Japanese listeners responded similarly, such that they reflected implicit tonal knowledge of Western music. By contrast, the responses of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indonesian listeners were different from those of American and Japanese listeners. When traditional Japanese melodies were presented, Japanese listeners exhibited responses that reflected implicit tonal knowledge of traditional Japanese music. American listeners also showed responses that were like the Japanese; however, the pattern of responses differed between the 2 groups. Alternatively, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indonesian listeners exhibited different responses from the Japanese. These results show large differences between the Chinese/Vietnamese/Indonesian group and the American/Japanese group. Furthermore, the differences in responses to Western melodies between Americans and Japanese were less pronounced than that between Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indonesians. These findings imply that cultural differences in tonal perception are more diverse and distinctive than previously believed.

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