Music Cognition Literature

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This page attempts to organize the music cognition literature in a way that's (hopefully) relevant to xenharmonics.

A citation generator is here - just put the DOI in and it'll generate the correctly formated citation.




  • Krumhansl CL. Music psychology: tonal structures in perception and memory. Annu Rev Psychol. 1991;42(1):277-303.
    • Mike's Summary: A fantastic meta-analysis of the Music Cognition literature up to 1991. Covers consonance, tuning and intonation (Parncutt, Terhardt, etc), categorical perception (Burns, Siegal, etc), AP, tonal heirarchies (Krumhansl), and the concept of "key"; also touches on some linguistic (Lerdahl and Jackendoff) and coding-theoretic approaches to music as well (Bharucha). Despite being 20 years old, this paper references a number of well-cited and significant studies for each of these subtopics of music cognition, and is a great starting point to delve into everything, especially the non-intonation related stuff (which regular temperament theory is silent on). This is a great starting point.
  • Krumhansl CL, Keil FC. Acquisition of the hierarchy of tonal functions in music. Mem Cognit. 1982;10(3):243-51
    • Mike's Summary: This study goes into detail explaining how the tonal heirarchy is formed in children at different ages
  • Musical Perceptions, Ch 8 - Tonality and Expectation, Jamshed Bharucha - ed. Aiello
    • Mike's Summary: This describes Bharucha's thoughts on the role of expectation and tonality; he asserts there must exist "schematic" and "veridical" expectations, the former of which are expectations underpinning the structure of the tonality, and the latter of which are things you expect upon hearing one particular piece
  • Curtis ME, Bharucha JJ. Memory and Musical Expectation for Tones in Cultural Context. Music Perception. 2009;26(4):365-375.(Free full text)
    • Mike's Summary: All in all, a mildly interesting, but weak study. I put it here so someone doesn't accidentally stumble on it again. They wanted to see if subjects would, upon hearing a tone set like C D E F A B C (e.g. C major without the G), "fill in" the missing G by misjudging that it was played in the tone set when it really wasn't. They test this with tone sets from both "Western" (C D E F G A B C) and "Indian" (C Db E F G Ab B C) source scales. However, their experiment seems to have failed - the highest probability of error occurred with "Indian" tone sets and "incongruous" test tones - not "Western" tone sets and "congruous" test tones as predicted - and this was statistically significant. However, despite this, they write "The false alarm effects reported above suggest criterion shifts,which would be expected for a process of “filling in” or expectation: tones that are filled in or expected are activated by the context, thereby biasing the judgment in favor of saying that the test tone is present." - !! I'm not sure if this is an error, or if they're trying to suggest something in the data which isn't there, or what's going on. They also measured reaction times and found that tones present in the "Western" scale (i.e. "Western/congruent" and "Indian/incongruent" situations) are processed more slowly than other tones.

Voice Leading

  • Huron, David. Tone and Voice: A Derivation of the Rules of Voice Leading from Perceptual Principles. Music Perception. 2001;19(1):1-64. (HTML, PDF)
    • Jason's Summary: As the article's title suggests, Huron describes a number of fundamental perceptual principles (toneness, temporal continuity, minimum masking, tonal fusion, etc.) and uses them to derive several of the conventional rules of classical voice leading. The author gives basic accounts of all these, if you are not familiar with either the psychology of perception or the rules of voice leading. The article does not claim that classical voice leading rules are inviolable in creating good music, but that they are not arbitrary, elucidating how polyphonic sound is likely to be experienced by the listener.