Intensity changes and perceived similarity: Inter-parametric analogies

Zohar Eitan*, Roni Y. Granot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Music theorists and psychologists have described diverse musical processes in terms of changes (increase or decrease) in “intensity”. This paper examines the hypothesis that analogous intensity changes in different musical parameters can be perceived as similar, and discusses implications of such perception for music analysis. In the experiment reported, participants rated the degree to which members of pairs of musical stimuli were similar in character to a “standard” — a crescendo on a repeated tone. One member of each pair presented an “increase” in a specific musical parameter, while the other presented a “decrease” (e.g., pitch ascent vs. descent). Parameters investigated included melodic direction and attack rate and their combinations, pitch interval size, motivic pace, and harmonic tension. For most parameters, the intensifying figure was rated as closer to the standard (itself intensifying) than its abating counterpart. Perceived similarity was strongest between figures presenting intensification in dynamics (crescendo) and pitch direction (ascent), while similarity between intensification in dynamics and tempo (accelerando) was weaker, and perceived mainly by musically-trained subjects. Similarity between dynamic change and harmonic progression was perceived only when the latter involved manipulation of dissonance, and dynamic intensification and increase in pitch interval size were perceived as similar only for ascending intervals. Importantly, the combined effect of melodic direction and attack rate on similarity perception was additive, rather than interactive, though the effect of melodic direction was significantly stronger. This result supports models of “integrated intensity contours” (Berry, 1976; Todd, 1994), but suggests different weighting for different musical parameters. In sum, results indicate that listeners can perceive intensity contours in different parameters as analogous, and thus suggest that intensity contours may serve as musical “gestures”, regardless of the specific parameters depicting them. The implications of these results to music analysis are discussed with regard to motivic structure, thematic prototypicality, and structural functions of intensity contours.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)39-75
Number of pages37
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number1_suppl
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2007

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2007, © 2007 European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music.


Dive into the research topics of 'Intensity changes and perceived similarity: Inter-parametric analogies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this