To gain a better understanding of the processes by which human listeners construct musical percepts within the Western tonal system, we conducted two experiments in which the perception of brief tone series was studied. The tone series consisted of (fragments from) different orderings of the collection C4 E4 F##4 G4 Bþþ4 and were preceded by two chords to induce a key. Two different tasks were used: (1) rating the melodic "goodness" of the tone series and (2) playing a few tones that complete the tone series. In Experiment 1, tone series of different lengths were presented in blocks. In Experiments 2a and 2b, increasing fragments of tone series were presented to examine the development of musical percepts. The majority of the data can be explained by two perceptual mechanisms: chord recognition and anchoring. Chord recognition is the mechanism that describes a series of tones in terms of a chord, a mental unit stored in long-term memory. Anchoring is the mechanism by which a tone is linked to a tone occurring later in the series. The paradigm appears to be a powerful tool for tracing perceptual mechanisms at work in the on-line processing of music.

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