PERCEPTION OF THE MAJOR/MINOR DISTINCTION: II. EXPERIMENTAL INVESTIGATIONS


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Abstract

This paper reports experiments examining perception of the major/minor distinction in continua of sine-wave triads, varying in nine equal steps from “pure minor” to “pure major” chords. Facility in labelling these items as major or minor was highly variable, bimodal in distribution among subjects, and only moderately related to musical experience. However, same-different discrimination of these chords posed no particular problems for anyone. Nearly all subjects heard first-inversion triads as sounding more major than root-position triads; however, it was not possible to determine whether this result should be attributed to pitch height or to harmonic factors. Neighboring triads along a continuum were subject to contrastive context effects. This contrast seemed to have a sensory, rather than cognitive, basis. Triads otherwise capable of showing contrast were not effective when separated by an octave, an unexpected and striking failure of octave generalization.

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