SILENCES IN MUSIC ARE DISTINGUISHED acoustically along only one dimension: the length of time they occupy. However, like pauses in speech, they are distinguished syntactically along many dimensions, depending on the context in which they occur. In two experiments, one using musical excerpts from commercially available recordings, and the other using simpler constructed excerpts, participants' reactions to silences were assessed. Participants pressed a button when they heard a period of silence begin and end, moved a slider to indicate perceived changes in musical tension across the course of each excerpt, and answered a series of questions about each silence, including questions about its duration, placement, salience, and metric qualities. Musical context, especially tonal context, affected the response to silence as measured by all three tasks. Specifically, silences following tonal closure were identified more quickly and perceived as less tense than silences following music lacking such closure.
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