Unintentional Learning of Musical Pitch Hierarchy
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It has been proposed that our knowledge about music is acquired passively, without intention, through exposure to music (Zatorre & Salimpoor, 2013). Research has shown that the mental tonal hierarchy of a listener, as assessed by the probe tone technique, often reflects the pitch hierarchy of the music to which the listener has been exposed (Castellano, Bharucha, & Krumhansl, 1984; Lantz, Kim, & Cuddy, 2013). The pitch hierarchy is reflected by the frequency with which each pitch class occurs, i.e., a first-order probability system. However, research concerned with the acquisition of statistical rules in music has only explored learning of second-order probability systems (Loui, Wessel, & Hudson Kam, 2010). In a series of experiments, I aimed to explore the possibility of unintentional learning of musical pitch hierarchy, a first-order probability system. For this purpose, I assessed participants’ sensitivity to frequency information contained in brief excerpts of a novel musical system. I also assessed whether short exposure to a novel musical system would influence participants’ representation of pitch hierarchy, and whether participants would be able to distinguish the novel musical system from another musical system to which they were not exposed. Participants with more music training exhibited higher sensitivity to frequency information contained in a novel musical system than participants with little music training. The sensitivity to frequency information was correlated with the amount of music training that participants had received. However, the mental representation of pitch hierarchy of participants with little music training was more influenced by the pitch hierarchy of the musical system to which they were exposed, whereas the mental representation of pitch hierarchy participants with more music training remained unchanged. The results suggest that unintentional learning of musical pitch hierarchy is influenced by the amount of music training participants have received. Overall, these findings provide evidence supporting the third proposition of the Theory of Tonal Hierarchies in Music (Krumhansl & Cuddy, 2010), which states that listeners are able to quickly adapt to the tonal hierarchies of unfamiliar music.