The cognition of atonal pitch structures

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Bianchi, Frederick W.
Scott, Cleve L.
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Thesis (D.A.)
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The Cognition of Atonal Pitch Structures investigated the ability of a listener to internally organize atonal pitch sequences into hierarchical structures. Based on an information processing model proposed by Deutsch and Feroe (1981), the internal organization of well processed pitch sequences will result in the formation of hierarchical structures. The more efficiently information is processed by the listener, the more organized its internal hierarchical representation in memory. Characteristic of a well organized internal hierarchy As redundancy. Each ensuing level of the hierarchical structure represents a parsimoniuos recoding of the lower levels. In this respect, each higher hierarchical level contains the most salient structural features extracted from lower levels.Because efficient internal organization increases redundancy, more memory space must be allocated to retain a well processed pitch sequence. Based on this assumption, an experiment was conducted to determine the amount of information retained when listening to pre-organized atonal pitch structures and randomly organized pitch structures. Using time duration estimation techniques (Ornstein, 1969; Block, 1974), the relative size of memory allocated for a processing task was determined. Since the subjective experience of time is influenced by the amount of information processed and retained in memory (Ornstein, 1969; Block, 1974), longer time estimations corresponded to larger memory space allocations, and thus, more efficiently organized hierarchical structures.ConclusionThough not significant at the .05 level (p-.21), the results indicate a tendency to suggest that atonal pitch structures were more efficiently organized into internal hierarchical structures than were random pitch structures. The results of the experiment also suggest that a relationship exists between efficient internal hierarchical organization and increased attention and enjoyment. The present study also investigated the influence that other parameters may have on the cognition of pre-organized music. Of interest were the characteristics inherent in music which may facilitate internal organization.