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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1986 Aug;12(3):295-301.

Development of the perception of musical relations: semitone and diatonic structure.


In the present research we examined the development of sensitivity to two musical relations significant in Western tonal music, the semitone and diatonic structure. Infants and preschool children were tested for their detection of a semitone change in any position of a five-note melody. Two standard melodies were used, one composed of diatonic tones only and the other containing a non-diatonic tone. In Experiment 1, children from 4 to 6 years of age were superior in detecting the semitone change in the diatonic context compared with the nondiatonic context. In Experiment 2, infants 9 to 11 months of age detected the semitone change in all positions, but their performance was not influenced by diatonic context. These findings indicate that infants and children can discriminate a semitone in a musical context and that the priority of diatonic structure emerges by 4 to 6 years of age.

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