Perceived Similarity of Musical Motifs: An Exploratory Study

Aexandra Lamont & Nicola Dibben

Abstract The dominant view in general psychology has been that prototypes play an important role in our judgements of similarity and difference, and that salience is a main determinant of prototypicality. What remains to be established for the musical domain in particular is the features which may determine salience in the sense of similarity judgements, and the extent to which these may be context-dependent (as has been found in many other domains). This paper adopts the view of similarity proposed by Tversky (1977) and attempts to explore similarity relations in the perception of musical materials. To do so we outline music-theoretical views of similarity, review earlier empirical studies of similarity in music, and then present our exploratory empirical findings for tonal and atonal music, before considering the relevance of our findings and proposing concrete suggestions for further research.