Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Perception of Mode, Rhythm and Contour in Unfamiliar Melodies

Perception of Mode, Rhythm and Contour in Unfamiliar Melodies: The Effects of Age and Experience

A study by Andrea Halpern, James Bartlett and W. Jay Dowling, from the journal Music Perception, the Summer 1998 issue. (click)

The purpose of this study was to answer two questions: How does aural perception differ for musicians versus non-musicians, and older versus younger subjects? And how well can these subjects identify a contrast of mode, rhythm, and contour in unfamiliar melodies? (click)

The researchers designed two experiments. In the first experiment, subjects are divided into 4 groups. The younger age group is made up of 24 undergraduate students. Half of them are musicians, having had an average of 11.75 years of private music lessons. The other half are non-musicians, having had an average of 0.63 years of private music lessons. The older age group is composed of 24 senior citizens, similarly divided into musicians, with 13.39 average years of musical experience, and non-musicians with only 0.58 average years of musical experience. (click)

Eight melodies were composed for this study. The first, Melody A, is a simple tune in a major key. The next, Melody B, has the identical notes as Melody A, but is rhythmically different. Melody C has the same rhythm as Melody A, but the tune has been inverted, thus changing the contour. In Melody D, this same inverted tune is used, and the rhythm is that of Melody B. The last four melodies, E, F, G and H, are identical to A, B, C and D, respectively, but they are in the relative minor key of their major counterparts. In this way, each melody changes only slightly overall from one to the next, but each change is enough to present a clear difference. (click)

For Experiment 1, the researchers had each subject listen to one of two tapes. Each tape contained a computer playback, at regular intervals, of 28 pairs of melodies A-H. The pairs were not chosen for any specific reason, each melody was as likely to be paired with each other melody. During this listening, subjects were asked to rate the relative difference of the paired melodies on a scale of 1-7, 1 being least similar and 7 being most similar. (click)

The results of this experiment indicated that there were few differences between musicians and non-musicians of a younger age. Younger subjects felt that rhythmically different pairs contrasted the most, with contour in between, whereas young subjects felt that major and minor pairs contrasted the least. Of the older group, the older non-musicians’ results were most similar to those of the younger subjects. Older musicians, however, differed from the other three groups and identified contour as the most contrasting factor, followed by rhythm, and then mode. All groups, regardless of age or musical ability, saw mode as the least determining factor between melodic pairs. (click)

For experiment 2, once again the subjects were classified by age and musical ability. 31 undergrad students, 14 of which were musicians, and 17 of which were not, made up the younger category. Of 24 senior citizens, 12 were musicians and 12 were not. (click)

The procedure of Experiment 2 followed the same basic format as Experiment 1, but this time melodies were paired specifically, changing only one variable as well as key signature for each pair. Subjects were asked, once again, to rate the relative contrast of melodies on a scale of 1-6. From these results, the relative accuracy of each group in identifying mode, contour and rhythm differences was determined. (click)

This experiment revealed that differences of rhythm and contour were easier to identify for all subjects, but mode remained the most difficult to discern. Non-musicians of both age groups had similar accuracy rates in determining melodic differences. Musicians of both age groups also had similar accuracy rates, but theirs were slightly higher than those of non-musicians. Also, of musicians, older subjects tended to score higher altogether in this experiment. (click)

From the results of this study, the researchers concluded that rhythm and contour changes are easiest to discern in music. Mode contrast is the most difficult to identify, even among the highest scoring subjects. (click)

On the question of age vs. experience, it was shown that musicians were better at identifying melodic differences than non-musicians, and that older subjects scored higher than younger subjects, even among non-musicians. The highest scores, however, were among older musicians. Overall, the results of these two experiments may only be significant for the oldest musicians with the most extensive musical background, but nonetheless the study clearly illustrates a connection between the factors of age and experience. (click)

This has been a presentation by Rebecca Janvrin. Thank you!


Note: The (click) s indicate where I would go on to the next slide.

Other Note: I tried to upload the melody images from my slide show onto this post, but I got an error. Sorry folks!


At 12/03/2006 12:03 PM, Blogger iheart-t-ravs said...

very clear and understandable. good job.

At 12/03/2006 4:43 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

It is interesting that there wasn't much age difference, since it is usually thought that your mind loses ability when you are old.

At 12/03/2006 5:59 PM, Blogger Nat said...

i really enjoyed your presentation. Your information was presented in a clear way.

At 12/03/2006 6:28 PM, Blogger Renee said...

likewise... despite what some people said in class i thought ur presentation was very clear and well organized

At 12/03/2006 8:21 PM, Blogger Vera Lynn Waters said...

i know these things are supposed to sound like ourselves. and listening to every presentation and reading all these things have showed me that it's very hard to make these things sound like ourselves. but you've accomplished it best. it may be because you talk incredibly intelligently all the time, but well done anyway

At 12/03/2006 10:55 PM, Blogger Becca said...

Thanks, Alex. =) I never realized how intelligent I sounded to people. Huh. =P

At 12/03/2006 11:55 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

your resentation was greatly done.


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