Despite the plethora of research on the role of tonality and meter in music perception, there is little work on how these fundamental properties function together. The most basic question is whether the two hierarchical structures are correlated – that is, do metrically stable positions in the measure preferentially feature tonally stable pitches, and do tonally stable pitches occur more often than not at metrically stable locations? To answer this question, we analyzed a corpus of compositions by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, tabulating the frequency of occurrence of each of the 12 pitch classes at all possible temporal positions in the bar. There was a reliable relation between the tonal and metric hierarchies, such that tonally stable pitch classes and metrically stable temporal positions co-occurred beyond their simple joint probability. Further, the pitch class distribution at stable metric temporal positions agreed more with the tonal hierarchy than at less metrically stable locations. This tonal-metric hierarchy was largely consistent across composers, time signatures, and modes. The existence, profile, and constancy of the tonal-metric hierarchy is relevant to several areas of music cognition research, including pitch-time integration, statistical learning, and global effects of tonality.

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