Back to index
Carpenter, Russell K.

Effects of Listening for Key Components in Jazz Pieces: The First Study of Cone's Theory of Ideal Hearing

Ed.D. University of San Francisco, 1996
(russell.carpenter@calbar.ca.gov)

This study was the first to test Cone's (1968) theory of an ideal hearing of music, which proposed that two perceptual modes were essential and that they be performed simultaneously: immediate apprehension, recognizing each musical event as it occurs, and synoptic comprehension, understanding the piece's entire form. Fischer (1990) had previously responded that while both modes might be necessary for an ideal hearing, they could not be performed at the same time due to their contrasting functions. Both Cone and Fischer expressed skepticism that the theory could be tested.

This study used an innovative design to test Cone's theory whereby subjects were instructed to (1) tap their pens on a tabletop when they heard an instrument make its entrance into the mix (to reflect immediate apprehension), and (2) name, by writing on a tablet, each chorus and bridge of six jazz selections (to reflect synoptic comprehension). Each pen-tapping response was tallied by the researcher according to a footage meter on the tape player. Jazz was chosen for the design because of its improvisational properties, and therefore a fortunate means of disallowing potential familiarity by most subjects.

The design was piloted, perfected, and later tested on three experimental groups from the San Francisco Bay Area, classified according to their abilities (Expert, n=5, Moderately Knowledgeable, n=6, and Novitiate, n=6) for three research questions: whether (a) experts would score identically for both perceptual modes, (b) moderately knowledgeables would score lower than experts but higher than novitiates for both modes, and (c) novitiates would score lower than both other groups for both modes. Percentages of correct responses were used to determine effectiveness of their ideal hearing. As expected, (b) and (c) were supported, but (a) was not, probably due to one extremely low score and a small n. Percentages for Immediate Apprehension and Synoptic Comprehension, respectively, were Expert .830 and .699, Moderately Knowledgeable .736 and .457, and Novitiate .562 and .318. Implications for future research on the theory could focus on appropriate instruction for ideal hearing, including components of both modes and how to listen for them.