This study tests the respective roles of pitch-class content and bass patterns within harmonic expectation using a mix of behavioral and computational experiments. In our first two experiments, participants heard a paradigmatic chord progression derived from music theory textbooks and were asked to rate how well different target endings completed that progression. The completion included the progression’s paradigmatic target, different inversions of that chord (i.e., different members of the harmony were heard in the lowest voice), and a “mismatched” target, a triad that shared its lowest pitch with the paradigmatic ending but altered other pitch-class content. Participants generally rated the paradigmatic target most highly, followed by other inversions of that chord, with lowest ratings generally elicited by the mismatched target. This suggests that listeners’ harmonic expectations are sensitive to both bass patterns and pitch-class content. However, these results did not hold in all cases. A final computational experiment was run to determine whether variations in behavioral responses could be explained by corpus statistics. To this end, n-gram chord-transition models and frequency measurements were compiled for each progression. Our findings suggest that listeners rate highly and have stronger expectations about chord progressions that occur frequently and behave consistently within tonal corpora.

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