This study examines how long the percept of a tonal center is retained in memory following a modulation to a new key, and how harmonic context in the new key area affects recall of the original key. In Experiment 1, musically trained listeners ( N = 50) were asked to rate perceived harmonic tension while listening to chord sequences that consisted of three parts: the first section established an initial key, the second section modulated to a new key, and the last section modulated back to the original key. The duration of the new key section ranged from 3 to 21 seconds. The tension slopes following the modulations indicated a gradual decay in the memory of the previous key as the length of the new key section increased. When sequences lacked cadences, traces of the initial key appeared to persist longer. In Experiment 2, musically trained listeners ( N = 31) were asked to rate harmonic tension while listening to sequences with longer timescales of up to 45 s in a new key area. Additionally, responses to “closed” modulations, which returned to the original key, and “open” modulations, which departed from both the original and new keys, were compared. The combined results of Experiments 1 and 2 showed that the original key was retained in memory after 15-20 s in a new key. However, there was not enough evidence to conclude it persisted beyond 20 s.
tension in music is a high-level concept that is difficult to formalize due to its complex, multidimensional nature. This paper proposes a quantitative model of musical tension that takes into account the dynamic, temporal aspects of listening. The model is based on data from two experiments. The first was a web-based study that was designed to examine how individual musical parameters contribute directly to a listener's overall perception of tension and how those parameters interact. The second study was an in-lab experiment in which listeners were asked to provide continuous responses to longer, more complex musical stimuli. Both studies took into account a number of musical parameters including harmony, pitch height, melodic expectation, dynamics, onset frequency, tempo, meter, rhythmic regularity, and syncopation. As an initial step, linear and nonlinear models were explored for predicting tension given analytical descriptions of various musical parameters. These models were tested on the continuous-response data from Experiment 2 and shown to be insufficient. An alternate model was proposed based on the notion of a moving perceptual window in time and the concept of trend salience. High correlation with empirical data indicates that this parametric, temporal model accurately predicts tension judgments for complex musical stimuli.