Response # 2
Hancock, Carl B. “Aesthetic Responses of Music and Non-music Majors to Gradual Pitche Center Changes.” Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 178 (2008):85-94.
In this study Music and Non-Music majors were subjected to recordings of Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14 that were altered to either rise in pitch gradually or lower in pitch gradually. The pitch center was altered at 1/100 of a semitone per second. The resulting difference between the altered recording and the unaltered recording was 5.1 semitones. Their aesthetic responses were recorded using a Continuous Response Digital Interface (CDRI). The participants were instructed to turn the dial based on their “aesthetic response” to the music. The term “aesthetic response” was not defined for the participants. The purpose of the study was to investigate whether education in music affected the aesthetic response to a moving pitch center. Previous studies have found that participants with little music training respond similarly to those with advanced music training. However, musicians are able to focus on listening to music for a longer period of time than non musicians. Great differences were found between the reactions of musicians and non musicians when asked to listen to extremely complex 20th century works. It was also found that performances tend to increase in pitch over time and musicians can discriminate flatness better than sharpness. In other studies musicians and non-musicians listened to several orchestral excerpts and modified versions with increased or decreased pitch center and/ or tempi. Both musicians and non musicians were more successful at discerning tempo changes, although they were all able to identify the pitch changes. Ultimately the study concluded that both music and non/music participants responded negatively to the performance where the pitch center lowered. Music majors were able to discern the upward shifting pitch center where non music participants reacted similarly to the unaltered version. All participants recorded similarly fluctuating levels of the aesthetic response that matched the climax of the piece. The study concludes by noting that pitch centers may change, but a performance can still be aesthetically pleasing, because, the ensemble is still relatively in tune with itself.
I’m not surprised that there was so much disparity amongst the responses to 20th century music. Alot of complex music is not enjoyable to listen to without some knowledge of the piece beforehand. I thought it was common knowledge that performances get sharper with time. I’m surprised that studies were done in 1974 and 1978 to prove this.
The article mentions a study that was done in 2004 where music majors listened to Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 and the pitch center increased one-cent every 1.2 second until a 300 cent pitch center change was attained. The results of the study showed that the music majors preferred the unaltered version, however they were unable to identify the pitch change in the altered version. I found this very interesting, because, I would expect a musician to notice an increase in sharpness. Perhaps because the change was so gradual even discerning ears cannot detect it. For me this emphasizes the idea that pitch is relative.
I think the study is slightly faulty because, “Aesthetic response” was not defined for the participants and if they asked what it meant they were instructed to use their own understanding of the term. Their responses were dictated by their individual definition of “aesthetic response” which creates another variable in the experiment.