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2015 Seminar Series

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Pitches at missing fundamentals in musical chords: Are they really perceived?
Speaker : Richard Parncutt
Time :6.00 - 7.00pm
Date :26th Feb 2015
Location :Old Arts, Theatre B, UNiversity of Melbourne, Parkville.


Location: University of Melbourne, Old Arts, Theatrette B

According to Parncutt (Music Perception, 1988) - a musical simplification of the pitch algorithm of Terhardt et al. (Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 1982) - everyday musical chords have or imply pitches at missing fundamentals. The major triad CEG implies pitches at F and A: F is a fundamental if C is the 3rd (or 6th) harmonic and G is the 9th, and A is a fundamental if E is the 3rd harmonic and G is the 7th. Similarly, the minor triad ACE implies D and F. The chord DEG implies pitches at C and A, and so on. These predictions are plausible given that most pitches heard in everyday complex sounds correspond to the fundamentals of harmonic patterns of spectral pitches; such fundamentals are often missing or inaudible. Parncutt (1993) presented chords of octave-complex (Shepard) tones followed by single octave-complex tones and asked listeners how well the tones went with the chords. We have replicated this study with more numerous and diverse participants, chords, and tasks. Participants were fundamental and spectral listeners according to Seither-Preisler et al. (2007). In Experiment 1, listeners judged how well the tone goes with the chord; in Experiment 2, whether it was part of the chord. In Experiment 3, listeners chose which of 12 comparison tones best matched the chord. In the results of Experiments 1 and 2, ratings for missing fundamentals were on average higher than ratings for other non-chord tones. The effect was small, but it was larger than the difference between diatonic tones (tones belonging to the same diatonic scale as all chord tones) and non-chord tones. We are developing a new model based on musical experience: the frequency of occurrence of chord progressions in a large database of western tonal music. Results of Experiments 1 and 2 may explain the (psychohistorical origin of the) music-theoretic concept of scale-chord compatibility. Experiment 3 produced markedly different profiles and is consistent with Terhardt's claim that chord roots are virtual pitches, whose perception is moulded by music experience.