Perception of musical tension in short chord sequences: The influence of harmonic function, sensory dissonance, horizontal motion, and musical training

  • Bigand E
  • Parncutt R
  • Lerdahl F
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This study investigates the effect of four variables (tonal hierarchies, sensory chordal consonance, horizontal motion, and musical training) on perceived musical tension. Participants were asked to evaluate the tension created by a chord X in sequences of three chords [C major-->X-->C major] in a C major context key. The X chords could be major or minor triads major-minor seventh, or minor seventh chords built on the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. The data were compared with Krumhansl's (1990) harmonic hierarchy and with predictions of Lerdahl's (1988) cognitive theory, Hutchinson and Knopoff's (1978) and Parncutt's (1989) sensory-psychoacoustical theories, and the model of horizontal motion defined in the paper. As a main outcome, it appears that judgments of tension arose from a convergence of several cognitive and psychoacoustics influences, whose relative importance varies, depending on musical training.

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  • Emmanuel Bigand

  • Richard Parncutt

  • Fred Lerdahl

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