In two experiments, the empirical parsing of melodies was compared with predictions derived from four grouping preference rules of A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (F. Lerdahl & R. Jackendoff, 1983). In Experiment 1 (n = 123), listeners representing a wide range of musical training heard two familiar nursery-rhyme melodies and one unfamiliar tonal melody, each presented three times. During each repetition, listeners indicated the location of boundaries between units by pressing a key. Experiment 2 (n = 33) repeated Experiment 1 with different stimuli: one familiar and one unfamiliar nursery-rhyme melody, and one unfamiliar, tonal melody from the classical repertoire. In all melodies of both experiments, there was good within-subject consistency of boundary placement across the three repetitions (mean r = .54). Consistencies between Repetitions 2 and 3 were even higher (mean r = .63). Hence, Repetitions 2 and 3 were collapsed. After collapsing, there was high between-subjects similarity in boundary placement for each melody (mean r = .62), implying that all participants parsed the melodies in essentially the same (though not identical) manner. A role for musical training in parsing appeared only for the unfamiliar, classical melody of Experiment 2. The empirical parsing profiles were compared with the quantified predictions of Grouping Preference Rules 2a (the Rest aspect of Slur/Rest), 2b (Attack-point), 3a (Register change), and 3d (Length change). Based on correlational analyses, only Attack-point (mean r = .80) and Rest (mean r = .54) were necessary to explain the parsings of participants. Little role was seen for Register change (mean r = .14) or Length change (mean r = ––.09). Solutions based on multiple regression further reduced the role for Register and Length change. Generally, results provided some support for aspects of A Generative Theory of Tonal Music, while implying that some alterations might be useful.

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