• Perception, Pitch, and Musical Chords

    Mark Yeary (see profile)
    Music theory, Music, Cognition
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    University of Chicago
    Music cognition
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    In this dissertation, I argue that hearing a musical chord—a simultaneity of two or more notes perceived as a single object—is perceptually different from hearing separate concurrent tones, and that the object status of chords shapes our experience of listening to harmonic music. Following an outline of the acoustic and contextual cues that promote chordal listening, I offer a series of performance strategies based on these cues that maximize the likeliness of hearing a sonority as a chord. I then argue that these strategies played a role in the development of the Western practice of harmonic tonality, and that the design and use of polyphonic instruments in the late Renaissance period enabled many of these strategies to be applied within musical practice. A further investigation of contextual and experience-based factors in chord perception is conducted in a pair of experiments, in which the listener is asked to recognize or “hear out” a tone from within a three-tone sonority. A listener who perceives a sonority as a chord is better able to perceive its emergent features, which are defined as properties of the whole that are not necessarily properties of its parts. I examine the emergent feature of pitch—a familiar property of the musical tone in both perceptual and theoretical descriptions—using the virtual pitch model proposed by Ernst Terhardt, and I outline the conditions in which a listener might perceive a chord as bearing an emergent pitch. An analysis of the opening sonority of Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms gives an example of how chord pitch may be used as a compositional resource. Drawing upon the conclusions of this analysis, I suggest how further research on perceiving chords’ emergent features—in particular the perceptual correlate of the music-theoretical concept of chord quality—could be applied to develop a more complete understanding of how we experience chords.
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    4 years ago
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