Local versus global processing of harmonic cadences in the solution of musical puzzles
The structure of Western musical pieces is delineated by several kinds of cadence. Half cadences in the main key indicate temporary endings; authentic cadences in the main key indicate definitive endings. Authentic cadences in the dominant key are of cognitive interest, since they mark a definitive ending at a local level but a temporary ending at a global level. This study investigated the local versus global processing of these cadences. Participants were presented with sections of 16-bar minuets displayed on a computer screen in the form of a musical jigsaw puzzle. The sections consisted of either the first or the second half of the minuet (8 bars each). The first section ended with either a half cadence in the main key (all experiments), an authentic cadence in the dominant key (all experiments), or an authentic cadence in the main key (Exp. 4). The second section always ended in an authentic cadence in the main key. Participants were asked either to join the two sections of each minuet in the most coherent order (Exps. 1, 2, 4) or to rate the perceived completion of each section (Exps. 3, 4). Numerous inversion errors were observed when the first section of the minuets ended with an authentic cadence in the dominant key. Completion judgments indicated that these cadences were perceived as marking a definitive ending. Both facts suggest that local processing of harmonic cadences prevails over global processing. This finding concurs with recent studies showing that listeners had great difficulties in perceiving the higher-order organization of musical form.
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