Despite the plethora of research on the role of tonality and meter in music perception, there is little work on how these fundamental properties function together. The most basic question is whether the two hierarchical structures are correlated – that is, do metrically stable positions in the measure preferentially feature tonally stable pitches, and do tonally stable pitches occur more often than not at metrically stable locations? To answer this question, we analyzed a corpus of compositions by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, tabulating the frequency of occurrence of each of the 12 pitch classes at all possible temporal positions in the bar. There was a reliable relation between the tonal and metric hierarchies, such that tonally stable pitch classes and metrically stable temporal positions co-occurred beyond their simple joint probability. Further, the pitch class distribution at stable metric temporal positions agreed more with the tonal hierarchy than at less metrically stable locations. This tonal-metric hierarchy was largely consistent across composers, time signatures, and modes. The existence, profile, and constancy of the tonal-metric hierarchy is relevant to several areas of music cognition research, including pitch-time integration, statistical learning, and global effects of tonality.
one facet of tonality perception that has been fairly understudied in the years since Krumhansl and colleagues' groundbreaking work on tonality (Krumhansl & Kessler, 1982; Krumhansl & Shepard, 1979) is the music theoretical notion that the minor scale can have one of three distinct forms: natural, harmonic, or melodic. The experiment reported here fills this gap by testing if listeners form distinct mental representations of the minor tonal hierarchy based on the three forms of the minor scale. Listeners heard a musical context (a scale or a sequence of chords) consisting of one of the three minor types (natural, harmonic, or melodic) and rated a probe tone according to how well it belonged with the preceding context. Listeners' probe tone ratings corresponded well to the minor type that had been heard in the preceding context, regardless of whether the context was scalar or chordal. These data expand psychological research on the perception of tonality, and provide a convenient reference point for researchers investigating the mental representation of Western musical structure.