Krumhansl and Kessler’s (1982) pioneering experiments on tonal hierarchies in Western music have long been considered the gold standard for researchers interested in the mental representation of musical pitch structure. The current experiment used the probe tone technique to investigate the tonal hierarchy in classical and rock music. As predicted, the observed profiles for these two styles were structurally similar, reflecting a shared underlying Western tonal structure. Most interestingly, however, the rock profile was significantly less differentiated than the classical profile, reflecting theoretical work that describes pitch organization in rock music as more permissive and less hierarchical than in classical music. This line of research contradicts the idea that music from the common-practice era is representative of all Western musics, and challenges music cognition researchers to explore style-appropriate stimuli and models of pitch structure for their experiments.

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