A key-finding algorithm based on tonal hierarchies

Carol L. Krumhansl

in Cognitive Foundations of Musical Pitch

Published in print November 2001 | ISBN: 9780195148367
Published online April 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199893201 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Psychology Series

A key-finding algorithm based on tonal hierarchies

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The last chapter showed that the experimentally measured tonal hierarchies correlate strongly with the distribution of tones in tonal-harmonic music. This suggested that the tonal hierarchies might be acquired through experience with the musical style, particularly through internalizing the relative frequencies and durations with which tones are sounded. The question is turned around in this chapter. Here it is asked whether listeners could use the tonal hierarchies, once acquired, to determine the key of particular musical selections. The basic idea is that the tonal hierarchies function as a kind of template against which the tones of the musical selection are matched. This pattern-matching process is modeled by a computer algorithm — written in collaboration with Mark Schmuckler — which is applied to a variety of musical segments. To the extent that the key-finding algorithm produces correct results, it strengthens the case that pattern-matching to tonal hierarchies may be one mechanism through which listeners arrive at a sense of key.

Keywords: musical tone; tonal hierarchy; musical keys; musical selection; algorithm

Chapter.  12859 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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