Playing an ascending or descending diatonic scale establishes a "tonal hierarchy" in which the major-mode tonic is judged by listeners as being in a tonal sense more stable than other notes (Krumhansl, 1983). This article describes a study in which listeners were asked to rate probe tones for suitability as tonics after presentation of a variety of "random" orderings of all seven notes of a given scale. The results indicate that even musically trained listeners do not differentiate the major-mode tonic as uniquely suitable as the tonal center. In fact the major-mode tonic, the mediant, the dominant, and the subdominant were considered equally suitable as tonics and together were given higher ratings than other notes from the scale, including what would be the tonic for the natural minor mode. Nonmusicians showed the same profile of responses as musicians. The results indicate that the time-order of notes is important to the perception of tonal hierarchy.

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