Music theorists have often disagreed about the material variables that determine the perception of harmonic closure. To investigate this controversial topic, we presented subjects with pairs of selected two-chord progressions. The subjects judged which member of each pair seemed more closed. Preferences varied across pairs of cadences and generally obeyed transitivity. Quantitative reformulation of theoretical harmonic variables permitted correlational analysis of the results. Three or four variables, including one or two that reflect learned stylistic structures, best explained our findings. Conventional harmonic factors of scale step, soprano position, and root position demonstrated surprisingly little explanatory power.


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