Music Performance and the Perception of Key

William Forde Thompson*, Lola L. Cuddy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The effect of music performance on perceived key movement was examined. Listeners judged key movement in sequences presented without performance expression (mechanical) in Experiment 1 and with performance expression in Experiment 2. Modulation distance varied. Judgments corresponded to predictions based on the cycle of fifths and toroidal models of key relatedness, with the highest correspondence for performed versions with the toroidal model. In Experiment 3, listeners compared mechanical sequences with either performed sequences or modifications of performed sequences. Modifications preserved expressive differences between chords, but not between voices. Predictions from Experiments 1 and 2 held only for performed sequences, suggesting that differences between voices are informative of key movement. Experiment 4 confirmed that modifications did not disrupt musicality. Analyses of performances further suggested a link between performance expression and key.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-135
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1997
Externally publishedYes


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