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Re: Auditory perceptual blocks, and criterion shifts

Dear Eldad:

Just a comment on your example of major and minor triads. Here "major" and "minor" seem to denote both the tonality and the size of the interval. If E-G is preceded by C-E, it is quite natural to perceive E-G as being in a major tonality, namely C major. To ask students to call E-G "minor" in that context may be confusing. Perhaps they should be asked to identify triads as spanning three or four semitones. If they still tend to mislabel E-G as spanning four semitones, then they may be subject to a genuine perceptual illusion created by context.

Incidentally, I remember an old study by Shepard and Jordan in which they showed that the scale steps of a major scale tend to be perceived as being equal in size, even though some span one semitone whereas others span two semitones. Perhaps a similar illusion exists within triads, making the constituent intervals (perhaps even including the fourth between the dominant and the tonic) seem to be of similar size?


Bruno H. Repp
(retired from Haskins Laboratories)
North Haven, CT
On Nov 25, 2012, at 12:24 PM, eldad tsabary wrote:

Hi all,
I am looking for some ideas and literature on two concepts relevant to ear training.

1. perceptual blocks - the case where a lack of perceptual flexibility, inability to change attentional focus, or hear at a different structural level, or any other aspect of perception, prevents ear training students from discriminating, segregating, or identifying sonic or musical parameters despite regular practice. I have used the term "perceptual block" to describe such instances, though in the literature, this term is usually associated with theories of creativity (and while I find some parallels , these concepts are quite different).

One of many such blocks, for example, could be (in the tonal domain) a perceptual habit that could be described, perhaps, as "tonal interference." In such cases, the students seem to listen to a certain interval in the context of previous tonal stimuli and may get thrown off by that contextual modality. A simple example of that is in listening to a minor third E-G right after hearing the major third C-E. In my experience, students often hear the minor third in the context of a C major triad and therefore hear it as having a major modality (or "feel"). 

This is only one type of example. I am looking for any literature that deal (more widely or more specifically) with the concept of auditory organization being stuck on a certain interpretation, inhibiting skill acquisition.

2. perceptual guides or anchors - the case where ear training students find a relatively reliable perceptual reference point that allows them to identify a certain sonic or musical parameter by comparison. An example from the tonal domain, again, may be the technique of learning how scale degrees sound by comparing them in the mind's ear to the tonic as a steady anchor. In another example, students practicing microtonal discrimination (down to about 5 cents differences) discovered that the acoustics of the room had an effect on the spatial perception of microtonal variation in pure tones. They used their spatial perception as an anchoring mechanism to recognizing microtonal differences. 

The second example is of course very different from the first, but I am interested in both and more. I am looking for any literature that deals with perceptual organization strategies (in attentive processing) that can be used to acquire aural skills by providing a reliable reference point.

I would also love some ideas about these concepts.

Many thanks

Bruno H. Repp
Research Affiliate
Haskins Laboratories
300 George Street
New Haven, CT 06511-6624
NOTE: I am retired now and no 
longer work at the Laboratories.