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Listeners' perceptual and emotional responses to tonal and atonal music

Prior, Helen



Research in music and emotion has largely focused on responses to tonal music on isolated occasions. This article presents a novel approach to the study of music and emotion that investigates the effects of familiarity on listeners' responses to tonal and atonal music. A mixed-methods longitudinal design was adopted to enable access to the familiarization process. Nineteen student participants (10 musicians; nine non-musicians) embarked on the study. Participants used a range of quantitative and qualitative self-report mechanisms to record their emotional responses to music by Clementi, Schoenberg and Berio over a two-week familiarization period. Results suggested that with increased familiarity, participants showed greater understanding of the musical structure and increased awareness of details in the music, which impacted on the emotional triggers identified by participants. There was evidence for increasing anticipation of emotional events with familiarity. The musical language also showed profound effects: participants found it more difficult to identify the musical structure of the atonal pieces than the tonal pieces; emotional responses to the atonal pieces were lower than those for the tonal piece, and these effects were greatest for non-music students. The implications of these results are discussed.


Prior, H. (2011). Listeners' perceptual and emotional responses to tonal and atonal music. Psychology of music, 39(4), 468-502.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Oct 27, 2010
Publication Date 2011-10
Deposit Date Nov 13, 2014
Publicly Available Date Jul 24, 2018
Journal Psychology Of Music
Print ISSN 0305-7356
Electronic ISSN 1741-3087
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 39
Issue 4
Pages 468-502
Keywords Psychology (miscellaneous); Music
Public URL
Publisher URL


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