In the psychological literature on musical humor, the emphasis on laughter-inducing music has naturally led researchers to focus on quite uncommon devices, such as stylistic deviations or formal incongruities that strongly violate listeners’ expectations, as the privileged basis for musical humor. But musical humor extends well beyond laughter-inducing music. It is also a kind of semantic content frequently ascribed to music, as attested by the long list of musical genres that are more or less explicitly associated with humor, wit, or comedy. As such, the communication of musical humor should be able to also rely on non-deviant compositional techniques; that is, compositional techniques that conform to the standard syntax in which the musical output is generated. In this paper, we show that selectively augmenting or inhibiting contrasts of register found in passages of Cécile Chaminade’s humorous piano music impacted the extent to which both expert and non-expert listeners rated such passages as expressing something humorous. We then analyze the effects of contrasts of register in light of incongruity and play theories of humor, and further discuss the relevance of our results for the semantics and pragmatics of music.

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