Among the three primary tonal functions described in modern theory textbooks, the pre-dominant has the highest number of representative chords. We posit that one unifying feature of the pre-dominant function is its attraction to V, and the experiment reported here investigates factors that may contribute to this perception. Participants were junior/senior music majors, freshman music majors, and people from the general population recruited on Prolific.co. In each trial, four Shepard-tone sounds in the key of C were presented: 1) the tonic note, 2) one of 31 different chords, 3) the dominant triad, and 4) the tonic note. Participants rated the strength of attraction between the second and third chords. Across all individuals, diatonic and chromatic pre-dominant chords were rated significantly higher than non-pre-dominant chords and bridge chords. Further, music theory training moderated this relationship, with individuals with more theory training rating pre-dominant chords as being more attracted to the dominant. A final data analysis modeled the role of empirical features of the chords preceding the V chord, finding that chords with roots moving to V down by fifth, chords with less acoustical roughness, and chords with more semitones adjacent to V were all significant predictors of attraction ratings.
In a prior study (Temperley & Tan, 2013), participants rated the “happiness” of melodies in different diatonic modes. A strong pattern was found, with happiness decreasing as scale steps were lowered. We wondered: Does this pattern reflect the familiarity of diatonic modes? The current study examines familiarity directly. In the experiments reported here, college students without formal music training heard a series of melodies, each with a three-measure beginning (“context”) in a diatonic mode and a one-measure ending that was either in the context mode or in a mode that differed from the context by one scale degree. Melodies were constructed using four pairs of modes with the same tonic: Lydian/Ionian, Ionian/Mixolydian, Dorian/Aeolian, and Aeolian/Phrygian. Participants rated how well the ending “fit” the context. Two questions were of interest: (1) Do listeners give higher ratings to some modes (as endings) overall? (2) Do listeners give a higher rating to the ending if its mode matches that of the context? The results show a strong main effect of ending, with Ionian (major) and Aeolian (natural minor) as the most familiar (highly rated) modes. This aligns well with corpus data representing the frequency of different modes in popular music. There was also a significant interaction between ending and context, whereby listeners rated an ending higher if its mode matched the context. Our findings suggest that (1) our earlier “happiness” results cannot be attributed to familiarity alone, and (2) listeners without formal knowledge of diatonic modes are able to internalize diatonic modal frameworks.
In this experiment, participants (nonmusicians) heard pairs of melodies and had to judge which of the two melodies was happier. Each pair consisted of a single melody presented in two different diatonic modes (Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, or Phrygian) with a constant tonic of C; all pairs of modes were used. The results suggest that modes imply increasing happiness as scale-degrees are raised, with the exception of Lydian, which is less happy than Ionian. Overall, the results are best explained by familiarity: Ionian (major mode), the most common mode in both classical and popular music, is the happiest, and happiness declines with increasing distance from Ionian. However, familiarity does not entirely explain our results. Familiarity predicts that Mixolydian would be happier than Lydian (since they are equally similar to Ionian, and Mixolydian is much more common in popular music); but for almost half of our participants, the reverse was true. This suggests that the “sharpness” of a mode also affects its perceived happiness, either due to pitch height or to the position of the scale relative to the tonic on the “line of fifths”; we favor the latter explanation.