Preferences for scale structure in melodic sequences.


Most Western music is tonal; that is, pitch organization can largely be described in terms of scales or keys. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the role played by scale in perceiving notes and melodies. The present article points out a potentially important distinction between scale structure (the set permitted pitch intervals between notes) and mode (the assignment of a special salience or centrality to particular notes within the scale structure). Four experiments are described that investigated the judgment of adult Western listeners for melodies that approximated to scale structure in differing degrees but that were random in other respects. We found that musicians and nonmusicians gave higher ratings of preference and adjudged musicality to melodies containing increased numbers of consecutive notes conforming to scale structure. A significant exception to this rule was the least scalar type of sequence, which received ratings as high as the fully scalar sequences. This exception occurred because subjects identified scale structure not only in groups of contiguous notes but also in groups of discontiguous notes that formed a coherent "stream" as long as the number of notes intervening corresponded to a standard temporal grouping, or meter, such as is commonly found in Western music.