Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 41, Issue 6, pp 609–620

Recovery of the tonal hierarchy: Some comparisons across age and levels of musical experience

  • Lola L. Cuddy
  • Betsy Badertscher

DOI: 10.3758/BF03210493

Cite this article as:
Cuddy, L.L. & Badertscher, B. Perception & Psychophysics (1987) 41: 609. doi:10.3758/BF03210493


Two experiments examined the recovery of the tonal hierarchy from three melodic patterns—the major triad, the major scale, and the diminished triad. In the probe-tone technique, for each pattern, each of the 12 tones of the chromatic scale was rated as a completion note for the pattern. Pattern tones and probe tones were synthetic complexes of octave partials, amplitude-weighted according to Shepard (1964). First- through sixth-grade children participated in the first experiment, adults with three levels of musical experience in the second. For all subjects, the probe-tone ratings for the major-triad pattern indicated recovery of the full tonal hierarchy. For the major-scale pattern, children and adults successfully differentiated tonal function within the scale. Adults, however, showed greater sensitivity to key organization than did the children and were less influenced by pitch proximity. The diminished-triad pattern conveyed no musical meaning to the children and was tonally ambiguous for the adults. The importance of the major triad in establishing a sense of key is underscored. As patterns depart from this prototype, recovery of the tonal hierarchy may depend on the degree to which musical knowledge (intuitive and formal) is applied.

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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lola L. Cuddy
    • 1
  • Betsy Badertscher
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada