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Musical surface features and memory for nonadjacent keys

Musical surface features and memory for nonadjacent keys

Presenter Name:Joanna Spyra

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Matthew Woolhouse


Music cognition experiments often use homophonic stimuli which are well controlled but have arguably low generalizability. In the current study, memory for an original musical key was tested by juxtaposing homophonic stimuli to those with two additional melodic surface features: Figuration, i.e. melodic decoration; and Activity, i.e. melodic business. Stimuli consisted of three sections: a key establishing nonadjacent section (Xns), a modulation to an intervening section  (Yis), and a probe cadence in the key of Xns (Xpc) which was rated by participants for “goodness of completion”. Figuration was operationalized as the addition to Xns of melodic and rhythmic figuration—such as neighbour tones and suspensions. Activity was manipulated by adding repeated notes—for example, eighth notes instead of quarter notes. Lastly, in a following experiment, the duration of Yis was extended to last between 6-36 seconds. Both Figuration and Activity had significant main effects in which the presence of each surface feature was rated higher, on average, than their absence. Yis Duration also reached significance; average ratings decreased as the duration of Yis increased. Results suggest that memory for nonadjacent keys presented with salient features is stronger. However, this memory decays over time, the full extent of which is, as yet, unclear.

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