The influence of harmonic complexity on melodic expectations

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Music Education

First Committee Member

J. David Boyle - Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which the perceived appropriateness of melodic continuations varies according to the harmonic complexity of an antecedent melodic accompaniment. Three levels of harmonic complexity were presented to listeners at four grade levels. A secondary purpose of the study was to examine differences across these grade levels.Subjects for the study were 384 fourth-, sixth-, eighth-, and tenth/eleventh-grade students from general music classes in three Dade County public schools.All subjects heard 27 "periods," each consisting of a four-measure antecedent phrase and a four-measure consequent phrase. Each antecedent consisted of a melody with an accompaniment; however, each consequent was a continuation of the melody without any accompaniment. Each melodic continuation also reflected one of the three levels of harmonic complexity.The three levels of harmonic complexity were distinguished by the degree of tonal strength reflected. The diatonic level reflected the highest degree; the chromatic level departed from the strong tonal structure; the chromatic plus level departed even further.Listeners were asked to rate how well (either "yes" or "no") each melodic continuation fit their expectations (how well it "went with") of what was going to come next after the antecedent.Results indicated significant differences in appropriateness ratings due to the main effects of (a) grade level, and (b) type of accompaniment at p $<$.05, and (c) type of consequent at p $<$.001.For accompaniment by grade, diatonic accompaniments were rated most highly by all groups except grade four, who gave chromatic plus accompaniments the highest rating. Diatonic accompaniments were rated most highly by the oldest students.For consequent by grade, diatonic consequents were rated most highly by all four groups, followed by chromatic, and last, by chromatic plus.For accompaniment by consequent across grades, there were significant differences among all three levels of accompaniment for each of three levels of consequent. Regardless of the type of accompaniment, diatonic consequents were rated most highly, followed by chromatic, and last, chromatic plus. Generally, consequents had a much stronger influence on appropriateness ratings than did accompaniments.


Music; Education, Music; Education, Educational Psychology

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