Strengths and limitations of the tonal hierarchy theory, and of the probetone testing procedure used to substantiate that theory, are discussed. The tonal hierarchy theory is characterized as an important contribution in that it begins to describe hierarchical relationships of tones in the diatonic set. The tonal hierarchy theory is, however, criticized because it does not describe the mental process or processes by which the tonal center of a piece of tonal music is recognized, nor does it account for the dynamic perception of tonality as it unfolds during actual musical listening. The probe-tone testing procedure most often used to substantiate the tonal hierarchy theory is criticized for the ambiguity of its response task, so that test results could be an artifact of effects of short-term memory. An alternative perceptual theory is proposed to describe the timedependent nature of pitch relationships in music. In this description, listeners are assumed to recognize the tonal center in tonal music on a bestevidence basis, and it is asserted that the clearest evidence is carried in the rarest-occurring intervals in the diatonic set. Evidence, gathered in a series of experiments, is cited to demonstrate that listeners both with and without extensive formal training in music form strong (and usually tacit) mental representations of unambiguous tonality when tones are arranged across time so as to form meaningful tonal referents.
Describing the Perception of Tonality in Music: A Critique of the Tonal Hierarchy Theory and a Proposal for a Theory of Intervallic Rivalry
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David Butler; Describing the Perception of Tonality in Music: A Critique of the Tonal Hierarchy Theory and a Proposal for a Theory of Intervallic Rivalry. Music Perception 1 April 1989; 6 (3): 219–241. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/40285588
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