What Child Is This? What Interval Was That? Familiar Tunes And Music Perception In Novice Listeners

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In the laboratory, musical novices often seem insensitive even to basic structural elements of music (octaves, intervals, etc.), undermining long-held theories of music perception, and threatening to leave current theories applicable only to experts. Consequently it is important to demonstrate novices' basic listening competence where possible. Two experiments examined the perception of musical intervals (minor thirds, major thirds and perfect fourths) by musical novices. Subjects received either standard instructions or familiar folk-tune labels to aid performance. The folk-tune labels greatly improved identification performance, producing expert-caliber performance by some musically inexperienced subjects. The effectiveness of the folk-tune manipulation was much more limited in a difficult discrimination task. The results suggest that novices do have some basic competence when assayed appropriately, and that familiar musical tokens may be a critical element in such assays. Larger implications of the role of familiarity in novices' competence are discussed, including those that relate to music cognition and aesthetics.

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