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Brainstem correlates of behavioral and compositional preferences of musical harmony

Bidelman, Gavin M.; Krishnan, Ananthanarayan

doi: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e328344a689
AUDITORY AND VESTIBULAR SYSTEMS
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Certain chords are preferred by listeners behaviorally and also occur with higher regularity in musical composition. Event-related potentials index the perceived consonance (i.e., pleasantness) of musical pitch relationships providing a cortical neural correlate for such behavioral preferences. Here, we show correlates of these harmonic preferences exist at subcortical stages of audition. Brainstem frequency-following responses were measured in response to four prototypical musical triads. Pitch salience computed from frequency-following responses correctly predicted the ordering of triadic harmony stipulated by music theory (i.e., major >minor >>diminished >augmented). Moreover, neural response magnitudes showed high correspondence with listeners' perceptual ratings of the same chords. Results suggest that preattentive stages of pitch processing may contribute to perceptual judgments of musical harmony.

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Department of Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA

Correspondence to Gavin M. Bidelman, Department of Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, 1353 Heavilon Hall, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2038, USA Tel: +1 765 494 6710; fax: +1 765 494 0771; e-mail: gbidelma@purdue.edu

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Website (www.neuroreport.com).

Received January 6, 2011

Accepted January 13, 2011

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.