Saturday, October 10, 2009

“Aesthetic Responses of Music and Non-music Majors to Gradual Pitche Center Changes.”

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.



Liana Henkel said...
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Liana Henkel said...
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Liana Henkel said...

It sounds like this article described multiple scenarios/pieces with some similar and some slightly varied results. In particular, the study you mentioned that I would have been interested in being a part of, was the research study in which music majors listened to Haydn’s Symphony No. 104. An increase in pitch of 300 “cents” over 360 seconds seems like it would be a dramatic increase but then I googled “pitch and cent” and discovered that 100 cents = a semitone so there was change of 3 semitones. I guess 3 semitones incrementally increased over 6 minutes isn’t that dramatic unless you have very acute pitch and hearing – maybe these musicians should have been able to hear the change? Although, if these musical research participants were asked to center in on “aesthetic” response, their brains may have been focusing on processing what aesthetic means (since it isn’t a very concrete concept) and what does it mean in terms of the symphony. Perhaps they knew what Haydn’s Symphony 104 should have sounded like and although they couldn’t discern that the pitch has raised 3 semitones, they knew something didn’t sound “right” and therefore preferred the unaltered version of the piece.

I agree that the concept of aesthetic is quite subjective and since they were instructed to use their own understanding of the term, it leaves the responses open to much interpretation by the participants. I would have thought that a definition would have been appropriate for this study. I then thought that if the researcher didn’t want to define “aesthetic response,” perhaps part of the study might be to determine what the concept of aesthetic means to the different participants; however, it doesn’t appear that there was a written component to answer or explain any of their responses – instead the response was to turn a dial and was then recorded using a CDRI, Continuous Response Digital Interface. I was curious about what a CDRI was and how it would work. When I googled it, I discovered that the CDRI was developed at Florida State University and there are a number of papers and articles that discuss the CDRI as a positive-negative measurement tool and its reliability and so forth. [Side note: please excuse the deletions of the comments ... the content really didn't change ... just fixed spelling and grammar, every time I reread it, I found something else ... but I think I am done now]

Augusto Monk said...

Well, I agree with the fact that pitch is relative, as Vasanasaid; actually, I would say thet perception is relative, and pitch is not exeption to it. It give me the impression that we are too fixaed with the as a measurement for evaluate muysicianship or test, as I was going through the amusia tests yesterday. According to the tests, I should be a bricklayer. But, this is overvuiewing the fact that music is not made of pitch only; so, a listener may pay attention or be preocupied, or distracted with other apstecs of the performance and not notice the increase in pitch; in the performance some aspect, say the rhythmic accuracy, may be more noticeable that the pitch increase, therefore the attentio shifts to that feature. Now, the other thing to consider is that most, if not all elements in a classical music performance fluctuate,such as tempo and dynamics; others are part of the music itself such as texture and density... a shift in pitch should not be surprising to happen.

rnorman said...

This is a really interesting topic! I have a few observations to make, and questions to ask, as well.

Right now I’m working with young children in a music classroom, and I’ve noticed that they often can’t tell whether or not they’re singing a song in the right key (as Robert Jourdain also notes in his book, Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy). The basic structure of the song remains intact, but unless I’m singing with the kids, the key can often change without them noticing. Most of the children have not developed a good sense of relative pitch yet. I think this is a similar phenomenon to the tests outlined in the article you reviewed, where pitch in a piece is gradually changed and goes unnoticed. It would be interesting to do the test outlined in the article with children, and see if they could recognize a changing pitch centre in a piece of music, and how long it would take them to notice it as compared to an adult.

I’m also curious now to listen to the kids as they sing, and see if they have a natural tendency to go sharp rather than flat. In your summary of the study, Vasana, you stated that it appears as if it is more difficult for [Western-trained] musicians to detect a fluctuation to sharper pitch rather than flatter pitch. I want to know if this is true for children with a limited music education background, as well. And if it is, does this say something about the music to which we are exposed in this western culture, and how we perceive it?

On another note (and pardon the pun), I think it is worth questioning whether some of the results in this test where pitch was raised gradually come from the tendency of the human brain to unconsciously “correct errors,” so to speak. For example, when we read prose with errors in it, often we won’t even see these errors because our brain automatically corrects them based on anticipations, and what the well-educated brain is already expecting. For example, I can write the word “fohgorn” with the letters mixed up, and still it is recognizable as the word “foghorn.” So does this phenomenon extend to our auditory processing, as well? Can we listen to a piece of music with a gradually changing pitch and not notice the pitch change simply because our brains are automatically correcting the sounds, or our perception of the sounds?