Pitch and Time, Tonality and Meter: How Do Musical Dimensions Combine?

Jon B. Prince*, William F. Thompson, Mark A. Schmuckler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


The authors examined how the structural attributes of tonality and meter influence musical pitch-time relations. Listeners heard a musical context followed by probe events that varied in pitch class and temporal position. Tonal and metric hierarchies contributed additively to the goodness-of-fit of probes, with pitch class exerting a stronger influence than temporal position (Experiment 1), even when listeners attempted to ignore pitch (Experiment 2). Speeded classification tasks confirmed this asymmetry. Temporal classification was biased by tonal stability (Experiment 3), but pitch classification was unaffected by temporal position (Experiment 4). Experiments 5 and 6 ruled out explanations based on the presence of pitch classes and temporal positions in the context, unequal stimulus quantity, and discriminability. The authors discuss how typical Western music biases attention toward pitch and distinguish between dimensional discriminability and salience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1598-1617
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


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