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Sensitivity to Chinese Melodies: Schematic Knowledge and Melodic Conformity

Sensitivity to Chinese Melodies: Schematic Knowledge and Melodic Conformity

Session 1

Presenter Name:Evin Huang

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Joanna Spyra, Matthew Woolhouse


Our schematic knowledge helps to shape our interpretations of melodic conformity, i.e., the goodness of the fit of notes within a linear sequence. Previous studies have shown that people unfamiliar with a particular modal system were able to acquire short-term schematic knowledge to anticipate upcoming events. Arguably, this can be explained by the relatively constrained nature of Western tonality: the Western tonal-harmonic system, which is essentially built upon two modes, allowing non-musicians to schematically learn it through enculturation. This experiment investigates the impact of tonal-system complexity on our ability to discern inaccuracies in melodies, i.e., wrong notes, and thus our schematic knowledge.

Previously, we compared Carnatic music—which is comparatively theoretically complex—and Western tonal music using experienced and non-experienced listeners. Two sets of novel stimuli for each tonal system—either conforming or non-conforming—were presented. Results showed that all groups had the ability to identify non-conforming melodies, except for the inexperienced Carnatic listeners, suggesting that they failed to possess schematic knowledge. Using the same design, we will examine whether experienced and non-experienced listeners of classical Chinese music—also, a relatively constrained system—are able to discern inaccuracies using schematic knowledge.

Given the above, we expect that both experienced and inexperienced listeners of classical Chinese music will be sensitive to melodic non-conformity, which, in turn, will suggest that the simplicity/complexity of tonal systems determines listeners’ ability to form schematic representations of its structural properties. Results consistent with this hypothesis will inform future stimulus creation, music composition, and shape our understanding of musical knowledge and enculturation within cross-cultural contexts.



Acknowledgements: We acknowledge the previous work of Neerjah Skantharajah, who conducted the study on Carnatic music.

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