Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Tonality in Music Arises from Perceptual Organization
by Kim, Ji Chul, Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2011, 215; 3456578
Abstract (Summary)

The perception of tonality has been mainly attributed to the properties of pitch structure such as sensory consonance and the statistical distribution of pitch classes, with little attention paid to the role played by temporal structure. In this dissertation, a psychological theory of tonality is presented which is based on the idea that the perception of tonality arises from the basic psychological process of perceptual organization by which a series of individual tones are combined to form coherent tonal-temporal units.

Three main arguments for the present theory are developed in the discussion of current psychological theories of tonality. First, the schematic knowledge about tonal organization should be about the internal structure of (partially) closed tonal-temporal patterns, rather than about nontemporal hierarchical relationships of pitch classes. Second, the pattern of tonal stability established from the structure of the current musical surface (bottom-up tonal stability) should be distinguished from the pattern of tonal stability inferred from the prior knowledge of typical tonal organization (top-down tonal stability). Third, tonal stability, which is a property of individual tones functioning within organized musical structures, is perceived only when individual tones are organized into coherent musical patterns.

Through a discussion of the phenomenon of melodic anchoring, a theoretical account is developed concerning the low-level perceptual processes in which a pattern of bottom-up tonal stability is established through the perceptual organization of a musical surface. It is suggested that the low-level (primitive) grouping structure of a given musical surface determines perceptually salient points in pitch and time and these salient points, which are heard as structural pitches and rhythmic accents, function as the internal reference points of tonal-temporal units in relation to which less salient events are encoded. The proposed theoretical account of tonality perception is developed further in the discussion of the processing advantage of top-down tonal expectations and the differences in perceptual organization at different structural levels. The distinction between sensory consonance and musical consonance is discussed in the light of the present theory.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gjerdingen, Robert O.
Commitee: Ashley, Richard D., Margulis, Elizabeth H.
School: Northwestern University
Department: Music Studies
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music, Cognitive psychology
Keywords: Melodic anchoring, Perceptual organization, Tonality
Publication Number: 3456578
ISBN: 9781124661452
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