Expectations for tonal cadences: Sensory and cognitive priming effects

David R.W. Sears, Marcus T. Pearce, Jacob Spitzer, William E. Caplin, Stephen McAdams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Studies examining the formation of melodic and harmonic expectations during music listening have repeatedly demonstrated that a tonal context primes listeners to expect certain (tonally related) continuations over others. However, few such studies have (1) selected stimuli using ready examples of expectancy violation derived from real-world instances of tonal music, (2) provided a consistent account for the influence of sensory and cognitive mechanisms on tonal expectancies by comparing different computational simulations, or (3) combined melodic and harmonic representations in modelling cognitive processes of expectation. To resolve these issues, this study measures expectations for the most recurrent cadence patterns associated with tonal music and then simulates the reported findings using three sensory–cognitive models of auditory expectation. In Experiment 1, participants provided explicit retrospective expectancy ratings both before and after hearing the target melodic tone and chord of the cadential formula. In Experiment 2, participants indicated as quickly as possible whether those target events were in or out of tune relative to the preceding context. Across both experiments, cadences terminating with stable melodic tones and chords elicited the highest expectancy ratings and the fastest and most accurate responses. Moreover, the model simulations supported a cognitive interpretation of tonal processing, in which listeners with exposure to tonal music generate expectations as a consequence of the frequent (co-)occurrence of events on the musical surface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1422-1438
Number of pages17
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • Musical priming
  • cognitive
  • sensory
  • tonal cadence
  • tonal expectations


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