The purpose of this study was to provide evidence for the perceptual component of an analysis of pitch relationships in tonal music that includes consideration of both formal analytic systems and musical listeners' responses to tonal relationships in musical contexts. It was hypothesized (1) that perception of tonal centers in music develops from listeners' interpretations of time-dependent contextual (functional) relationships among pitches, rather than primarily through knowledge of psychoacoustical or structural characteristics of the pitch content of sets or scales and (2) that critical perceptual cues to functional relationships among pitches are provided by the manner in which particular intervallic relationships are expressed in musical time. Excerpts of tonal music were chosen to represent familiar harmonic relationships across a spectrum of tonal ambiguity/specificity. The pitch-class sets derived from these excerpts were ordered: (1) to evoke the same tonic response as the corresponding musical excerpt, 2) to evoke another tonal center, and (3) to be tonally ambiguous. The effect of the intervallic contents of musical excerpts and strings of pitches in determining listeners' choices of tonic and the effect of contextual manipulations of tones in the strings in directing subjects' responses were measured and compared. Results showed that the musically trained listeners in the study were very sensitive to tonal implications of temporal orderings of pitches in determining tonal centers. Temporal manipulations of intervallic relationships in stimuli had significant effects on concurrences of tonic responses and on tonal clarity ratings reported by listeners. The interval rarest in the diatonic set, the tritone, was the interval most effective in guiding tonal choices. These data indicate that perception of tonality is too complex a phenomenon to be explained in the time-independent terms of psychoacoustics or pitch- class collections, that perceived tonal relationships are too flexible to be forced into static structural representations, and that a functional interpretation of rare intervals in optimal temporal orderings in musical contexts is a critical feature of tonal listening strategy.


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