International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition
Bologna, Italy, 2006 August 25
Ten musicians were asked to describe the quality or character evoked by different scale tones in the Western major scale. For example, the "mediant" pitch was variously described by particiants as "light," "lifted," "restful," "peaceful," "warm," "bright," or "calm." An informal semantic analysis of the descriptive terms suggests that most of the descriptors can be grouped into seven categories: (1) certainty/uncertainty, (2) tendency, (3) completion, (4) mobility, (5) stability, (6) power, and (7) emotion.
Independently, statistical data were collected on the probabilities of different scale tones in a large sample of Western music in the major key. Collected data included the first-order probabilities for different tone successions. Some tones (such as the dominant) show considerable flexibility. In addition, data were collected on scale tones that are most likely to terminate a phrase or work.
There appears to be a strong association between the subjective "qualia" reported by musicians and the basic statistical properties of scale tones for Western music. Those scale tones characterized by musicians as "tending," "leading," or "pointing," are most likely to be those tones that are objectively most highly constrained in their first-order probabilities. Scale tones described as "stable" or "restful" are most likely to be those tones that exhibit a high probability of terminating a phrase or work. Most of the qualia cateories, including certainty, tendency, completion, mobility, and stability appear to be readily interpreted as relating to the statistical properties of tones and tone successions. These findings are consistent with the idea that the subjective experience evoked by tones may be attributable to statistical learning.