In most Western music, notes in a melody relate not only to each other, but also to a “key”—a tonal center combined with an associated scale. Music is often classified as in a major or minor key, but within a scale that defines a major key, emphasizing different notes as the tonic yields different “modes.” Thus, within a set of notes, changing the tonal center changes the putative role of any given note. In this experiment, we eliminated all structural cues to the tonic within a melody by presenting notes randomly selected from the C major scale. A “mode” was established by a continuous drone note lower than the melody. Subjects rated mood (happy versus sad) and tension of each pseudo-melody. Consistent with Temperley and Tan (2013)—in which multiple structural cues were present—different modes produced reliable differences in judged mood and tension. Notably, modes with a major 3rd from the tonic (Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian) were perceived as happier and less tense than modes with a minor 3rd (Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian, Locrian). The results confirm that the perception of notes in a melody, and their consequent emotional connotation, depend at least in part to their relationship to a tonal center.
Tonality Without Structure: Using Drones to Induce Modes and Convey Moods
These data were presented at the 15th Annual Auditory Perception, Cognition, and Action Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, in November 2016. We are indebted to Yadi Chen, Rebecca Conklin, Isabelle Dawson, Kenya Dominguez, JaSonia Edwards, Andrea Ruf, Marisa Serchuk, and Kaelyn Wood for assistance with data collection, and to Ronald Friedman and Abigail Kleinsmith for helpful discussion of this work. We are also grateful to David Temperley and two anonymous reviewers for comments that facilitated revision of the manuscript.
George Seror is now at Dickinson State University, Dickinson, ND.
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Jeffrey Bostwick, George A. Seror, W. Trammell Neill; Tonality Without Structure: Using Drones to Induce Modes and Convey Moods. Music Perception 1 December 2018; 36 (2): 243–249. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/mp.2018.36.2.243
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