While determining an appropriate tempo is crucial to music performers, composers and listeners, few empirical studies have investigated the musical factors affecting tempo choices. In two experiments we examined how aspects of musical pitch affect tempo choice, by asking participants (musically trained and untrained) to adjust the tempi of melodic sequences varying in pitch register and pitch direction, as well as sequences typically associated with specific registers in common period music. In Experiment 1, faster tempi were assigned to higher registers. Specific melodic direction (rise vs. fall) did not affect tempo preferences; nevertheless, pitch change in both directions elicited faster tempi than a repeating, unchanging pitch. The effect of register on tempo preference was stronger for participants with music training, and also (unexpectedly) for female participants. In Experiment 2, melodic figures typically related to lower and higher parts in common-period music were associated with slower and faster tempi, respectively. Results support a “holistic” notion of musical tempo, viewing the choice of proper tempo as determined by interactions among diverse musical dimensions, including aspects of pitch structure, rather than by rhythmic considerations alone. The experimental design presented here can be further applied to explore the effects of other musical parameters on tempo preferences.

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