The perception of melodic closure : a study of the factors influencing final note choice to achieve melodic closure : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Applied Psychology at Massey University
This study investigates the notion of closure put forward by gestalt theorists in reference to visual perception but applies it to aural perception of simple melodies. Specifically the study focusses on the final note chosen to effect melodic closure. It addresses the question of the selection of the final note and attempts to ascertain what major factors influence its selection. To achieve this, three basic groups of subjects were tested; (1) children, - two groups of 20 males and 20 females, one group 10 years old and the other 12 years old (2) 20 male and 20 female young adults, 18 - 20 years, and (3) 10 performing musicians with an expressed preference for traditional western classical music and 10 performing musicians with an expressed preference for jazz and non–conventional music. From the first two groups a random sample of 5 males and 5 females was extracted for alternative treatment and the application of the Witkin Embedded Figures test. The first two groups were presented with a recording of four simple melodies each played seven times providing a different final note. Twenty-eight items were therefore provided and subjects were required to indicate whether or not they felt satisfied with the melody as a completed entity. The group of trained musicians were given in conventional notation too first 1 1/4 bars of a simple melody and asked to complete it exercising their own choice as to contour and the instrument used. The random sample extracted from groups 1 and 2 were taught a simple unfinished melody on a metalophone and asked to provide two notes to complete it. They were also tested on the Witkin Embedded Figures Test to ascertain whether cognitive style was a relevant factor or not. The results presented show that subjects do have clear preferences for melodic closure. The tonic of the perceived key is significantly chosen to effect closure but the degree of preference is tune specific and influenced by melodic contour. The research also shows that closure choices are mediated by age, sex, and cognitive style, and the interaction of these factors. Design A provides clear evidence of mediation of closure by melodic contour while Design B demonstrates that the interaction of sex and cognitive style is a significant factor influencing melodic closure. A degree of conflict between results obtained in Design A and Design B suggests that the major factors influencing closure are tune specific. Design C demonstrates that there is a difference in the way musicians of different "styles" affect melodic closure. However the difference was the reverse of that expected - "Jazz" musicians showed greater preference for tonic closure than did "Traditional" musicians. This research demonstrates that people do have a definite preference to effect melodic closure with the tonic of the perceived key but this preference is not uniformly applied. It is affected by tune specific factors, as well as the subject factors of age, sex, cognitive style, and the interaction of all four factors.