Popular mainstream music (hereafter, rock) employs the basic set of chords built on the diatonic scale but also many others (de Clercq & Temperley, 2011; Stephenson, 2002). In an initial investigation of listeners’ perception of rock harmony, we adapted a rating task developed by Krumhansl (1990) in her pioneering studies of the common-practice harmonic hierarchy. Participants provided surprise and liking ratings for 35 (major, minor, dominant 7, and control) target chords that followed short key-establishing musical passages (a major scale + tonic major triad, or a major pentatonic scale + tonic major triad) or white noise. Liking ratings for targets that followed a musical passage indicated that listeners prefer some chords that are common in rock, but that lie outside the basic diatonic set, to atypical chords; this effect depended on chord quality and was clearest for major target chords. The findings provide an impetus for further research exploring the harmonic hierarchy in listeners with varying musical backgrounds; it appears to be more inclusive and less differentiated than is commonly thought.

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