Cognitive meanings of musical elements as disclosed by event-related potential (ERP) and verbal experiments

Dalia Cohen, Roni Granot, Hillel Pratt, Anat Barneah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


The study included six experiments on responses to harmonic and melodic intervals, using two complementary methods: event-related potentials (ERP) and verbal responses. Three experiments were performed with each method, using the same musical material: (1) isolated harmonic intervals (m 2nd, m 3rd, p 5th); (2) nine pairs of melodic intervals comprising combinations of three intervals (prime, ascending 2nd, ascending M 6th); (3) 27 pairs of harmonic intervals: nine combinations of the three intervals from Experiment 1, and the three intervals from Experiment 2. All subjects in the ERP experiments were knowledgeable in music, whereas in the verbal experiments, subjects varied in their cultural background (Western or Arab), age, and musical knowledge. The results showed specific responses to intervals, even without context, indicating that intervals may be viewed as meaningful words, even when presented in isolation. Furthermore, the results of comparisons within and between experiments confirmed earlier assumptions on the contribution of musical elements to tension or excitement, as opposed to relaxation, and underscored the importance of cognitive principles such as the "inverted U function," contrast, levels of consciousness, and hierarchy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-184
Number of pages32
JournalMusic Perception
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1993


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