Dissertation Index

Author: Joichi, Janet M.

Title: Closure, Context, and Hierarchical Grouping in Music: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation

Institution: Northwestern University

Begun: May 2004

Completed: June 2006


This dissertation explores how listeners perceive musical segments that are grouped hierarchically. Previous empirical studies have shown that listeners comprehend relatively small and large musical segments, often corresponding to phrases and sections. However, studies have not adequately examined how listeners comprehend groups of small musical segments. To address this shortcoming, this dissertation explores the connection between several factors — the degree of completeness or closure perceived at the end of musical segments, the hierarchical organization of musical segments based on patterns of closure, and local musical features. In three perceptual experiments, musically-informed participants judged the completeness of musical segments taken from keyboard works of the Classical period. In the first experiment, expert musicians analyzed a set of musical pieces; they indicated musical boundaries, rated strength of closure at each boundary, and commented on musical features which informed their decisions about closure. In the second experiment, musically-trained participants listened to excerpts of these musical pieces and rated the completeness of each excerpt on a scale from 1 to 5. Listeners heard the excerpts in different contexts that varied in length and stopping point. Ratings were compared to several musical features, such as thematic repetition, cadences, bass lines, and voice leading. In the third experiment, listeners compared pairs of excerpts and chose the more complete excerpt. The perceptual results of the second and third experiments show that listeners perceive stronger closure with longer contexts. They also perceive stronger closure at the end of musical segments that correspond to higher-level boundaries in the grouping hierarchy. The findings suggest that listeners reacted to both local musical features and long-range cues, such as contrasting degrees of closure among lower-level units. Thus, hierarchical grouping of musical segments may emerge from patterns of closure, as well as from local musical features indicating degrees of closure at the end of segments.

Keywords: Grouping, hierarchy, closure, perception, phrases, periods


Ch.1 Introduction
Ch.2 Perceptual Explanations on Grouping, Hierarchy, and Closure
Ch.3 Music-Theoretical Explanations on Organization of
Ch.4 Musical Example, Hypotheses and Predictions
Ch.5 Empirical Investigations
Ch.6 General Discussion and Conclusions



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