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Free Content Heaviness and the electric guitar: Considering the interaction between distortion and harmonic structures

In metal music studies, ‘heaviness’ has been acknowledged as an essential element of the genre. Commonly associated with the distorted guitar, most work on heaviness has concentrated on the instrument’s sound. If respective research considered structural aspects of the guitar riff, it did so with a special focus on tempo, rhythm, tonality and form. This article analyses the interaction between distortion and harmonic structures on the electric guitar. Operationalizing heaviness with a psychoacoustic model of sensory consonance, an acoustic experiment explores how guitar distortion affects acoustic features of harmonic structures. Since acoustic studies are limited in predicting perception, a listening test investigates distortion’s influence on listener perception. The findings indicate that both increasing distortion level and harmonic complexity reduce sensory consonance, especially when acting together. Acoustically, distortion has a slightly stronger effect than structure; perceptually, the ratio is dependent on person-specific characteristics. Metalheads seem to be only marginally affected by sensory dissonance.

Keywords: chords; distortion; electric guitar; experiment; harmonic structures; heaviness; metal; music theory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Huddersfield

Publication date: March 1, 2018

More about this publication?
  • Metal Music Studies is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies.

    The aims of the journal are:
    • To provide an intellectual hub for the International Society of Metal Music Studies and a vehicle to promote the development of metal music studies;
    • To be the focus for research and theory in metal music studies – a multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) subject field that engages with a range of parent disciplines, including (but not limited to) sociology, musicology, humanities, cultural studies, geography, philosophy, psychology, history, natural sciences;
    • To publish high-quality, world-class research, theory and shorter articles that cross over from the industry and the scene;
    • To be a world leader in interdisciplinary studies and be a unique resource for metal music studies.
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