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Re: errors in harmonic chord identification

On Sep 6, 2005, at 8:12 AM, Riana.Walsh wrote:

Dear list

I am looking for information on the errors listeners make when identifying
isolated harmonic chords (major / minor / augmented / diminished / dominant


Are you seeking to explain listener's behavior to the types of tests given in music classes, or are you seeking to understand the perception of harmony? I ask because chords taken out of context may have little meaning, or more to the point, different meanings in different eras and styles. For example, the combination of a major third and a major sixth (e.g., C4-E4-A4) was "major" to 16th-century Italians like Zarlino, but "minor" to 19th-century Germans. In many cases, the categories of chords are best understood as proxy names for perceived roles or functions. In that regard, the abstract appended below might be useful. The Crowder studies mentioned by Bruno are certainly a propo to questions of binary categorizations, but I sense that was not your interest. The experience of music teachers contains numerous interesting cases, as when students mistake augmented for diminished, seemingly because they lump the two chords into the broader category of "odd" chords. Students who attempt to identify a chord by recognizing component intervals often mistake inversions as the opposite mode (e.g., 1st inv. major = minor).

Best wishes,
Bob Gjerdingen

Rosner, Burton S; Narmour, Eugene.
Harmonic closure: Music theory and perception.
Music Perception. Vol 9(4) Sum 1992, 383-411.
Univ of California Press, US
Examined the influence of material variables that determine the perception of harmonic closure by presenting 19 listeners with pairs of selected 2-chord progressions. Ss judged which member of each pair seemed more closed. Preferences varied across pairs of cadences and generally obeyed transitivity. Quantitative reformulation of theoretical harmonic variables permitted correlational analysis of the results. Three or 4 variables, including 1 or 2 that reflect learned stylistic structures, best explained the findings. Conventional harmonic factors of scale step, soprano position, and root position demonstrated little explanatory power. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)