Asymmetry of perceived key movement in chorale sequences: Converging evidence from a probe-tone analysis

Lola L. Cuddy*, William F. Thompson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


In a probe-tone experiment, two groups of listeners - one trained, the other untrained, in traditional music theory - rated the goodness of fit of each of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale to four-voice harmonic sequences. Sequences were 12 simplified excerpts from Bach chorales, 4 nonmodulating, and 8 modulating. Modulations occurred either one or two steps in either the clockwise or the counterclockwise direction on the cycle of fifths. A consistent pattern of probe-tone ratings was obtained for each sequence, with no significant differences between listener groups. Two methods of analysis (Fourier analysis and regression analysis) revealed a directional asymmetry in the perceived key movement conveyed by modulating sequences. For a given modulation distance, modulations in the counterclockwise direction effected a clearer shift in tonal organization toward the final key than did clockwise modulations. The nature of the directional asymmetry was consistent with results reported for identification and rating of key change in the sequences (Thompson & Cuddy, 1989 a). Further, according to the multiple-regression analysis, probe-tone ratings did not merely reflect the distribution of tones in the sequence. Rather, ratings were sensitive to the temporal structure of the tonal organization in the sequence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-59
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1992
Externally publishedYes


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