Memory & Cognition

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 243–251

Acquisition of the hierarchy of tonal functions in music

  • Carol L. Krumhansl
  • Frank C. Keil

DOI: 10.3758/BF03197636

Cite this article as:
Krumhansl, C.L. & Keil, F.C. Memory & Cognition (1982) 10: 243. doi:10.3758/BF03197636


The acquisition of the hierarchy of tonal stabilities in music is investigated in children of elementary school age. Listeners judge how good short tone sequences sound as melodies. The ratings show a pattern of increasing differentiation of the pitches in an octave range. The youngest listeners distinguish between scale and nonscale tones; older listeners distinguish between the tonic triad tones and other scale components. A group of adult listeners show octave equivalence and temporal asymmetries, with a preference for sequences ending on the more stable tones within the hierarchy. Pitch height effects do not interact with the age of the listener. These results are discussed in terms of the primacy of physical variables, novice-expert differences, and general cognitive principles governing the acquisition and development of internal representations of pitch relationships.

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol L. Krumhansl
    • 1
  • Frank C. Keil
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCornell UniversityIthaca

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