Brainstem correlates of behavioral and compositional preferences of musical harmony


Certain chords are preferred by listeners behaviorally and also occur with higher regularity in musical composition. Event-related potentials index the perceived consonance (i.e., pleasantness) of musical pitch relationships providing a cortical neural correlate for such behavioral preferences. Here, we show correlates of these harmonic preferences exist at subcortical stages of audition. Brainstem frequency-following responses were measured in response to four prototypical musical triads. Pitch salience computed from frequency-following responses correctly predicted the ordering of triadic harmony stipulated by music theory (i.e., major >minor >>diminished >augmented). Moreover, neural response magnitudes showed high correspondence with listeners' perceptual ratings of the same chords. Results suggest that preattentive stages of pitch processing may contribute to perceptual judgments of musical harmony. © 2011 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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