Musical Style Affects the Strength of Harmonic Expectancy

Abstract

Research in music perception has typically focused on common-practice music (tonal music from the Western European tradition, ca. 1750–1900) as a model of Western musical structure. However, recent research indicates that different styles within Western tonal music may follow distinct harmonic syntaxes. The current study investigated whether listeners can adapt their harmonic expectations when listening to different musical styles. In two experiments, listeners were presented with short musical excerpts that primed either rock or classical music, followed by a timbre-matched cadence. Results from both experiments indicated that listeners prefer V-I cadences over bVII-I cadences within a classical context, but that this preference is significantly diminished in a rock context. Our findings provide empirical support for the idea that different musical styles do employ different harmonic syntaxes. Furthermore, listeners are not only sensitive to these differences, but are able to adapt their expectations depending on the listening context.

Publication
Music & Science