By common assumption, the first step in processing a tonal melody consists in setting up the appropriate metrical and harmonic frames required for the mental representation of the sequence of tones. Focusing on the generation of a harmonic frame, this study aims (a) to discover the factors that facilitate or interfere with the development of a harmonic interpretation, and (b) to test the hypothesis that goodness ratings of tone sequences largely depend on whether the listener succeeds in creating a suitable harmonic interpretation. In two experiments, listeners rated the melodic goodness of selected sequences of 10 and 13 tones and indicated which individual tones seemed not to fit. Results indicate that goodness ratings (a) are higher the more common the induced harmonic progression, (b) are strongly affected by the occurrence and position of nonchord tones: sequences without nonchord tones were rated highest, sequences with anchoring nonchord tones intermediately, and nonanchoring nonchord tones lowest. The explanation offered is compared with predictions derived from other theories, which leads to the conclusion that when a tone sequence is perceived as a melody, it is represented in terms of its underlying harmony, in which exact pitch-height characteristics play a minor role.
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