Bimodal distribution of performance in discriminating major/minor modes.


This study investigated the abilities of listeners to classify various sorts of musical stimuli as major vs minor. All stimuli combined four pure tones: low and high tonics (G5 and G6), dominant (D), and either a major third (B) or a minor third (B[symbol: see text]). Especially interesting results were obtained using tone-scrambles, randomly ordered sequences of pure tones presented at ≈15 per second. All tone-scrambles tested comprised 16 G's (G5's + G6's), 8 D's, and either 8 B's or 8 B[symbol: see text]'s. The distribution of proportion correct across 275 listeners tested over the course of three experiments was strikingly bimodal, with one mode very close to chance performance, and the other very close to perfect performance. Testing with tone-scrambles thus sorts listeners fairly cleanly into two subpopulations. Listeners in subpopulation 1 are sufficiently sensitive to major vs minor to classify tone-scrambles nearly perfectly; listeners in subpopulation 2 (comprising roughly 70% of the population) have very little sensitivity to major vs minor. Skill in classifying major vs minor tone-scrambles shows a modest correlation of around 0.5 with years of musical training.

DOI: 10.1121/1.4816546

Cite this paper

@article{Chubb2013BimodalDO, title={Bimodal distribution of performance in discriminating major/minor modes.}, author={Charles F. Chubb and Christopher A Dickson and Tyler Dean and Christopher Fagan and Daniel S Mann and Charles E. Wright and Maime Guan and Andrew E. Silva and Peter K. Gregersen and Elena Kowalsky}, journal={The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America}, year={2013}, volume={134 4}, pages={3067-78} }