Expecting the end: Continuous expectancy ratings for tonal cadences

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Cognitive accounts for the formation of expectations during music listening have largely centered around mental representations of scales using both melodic and harmonic stimuli. This study extends these findings to the most recurrent cadence patterns associated with tonal music using a real-time, continuous-rating paradigm. Musicians and nonmusicians heard cadential excerpts selected from Mozart’s keyboard sonatas (perfect authentic cadence [PAC], imperfect authentic cadence [IAC], half cadence [HC], deceptive cadence [DC], and evaded cadence [EV]), and continuously rated the strength of their expectations that the end of each excerpt is imminent. As predicted, expectations for closure increased over the course of each excerpt and then peaked at or near the target melodic tone and chord. Cadence categories for which tonic harmony was the expected goal (PAC, IAC, DC, EV) received the highest and earliest expectancy ratings, whereas cadence categories ending with dominant harmony (HC) received the lowest and latest ratings, suggesting that dominant harmony elicits weaker expectations in anticipation of its occurrence in cadential contexts. A regression analysis also revealed that longer excerpts featuring dense textures and a cadential six-four harmony received the highest ratings overall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-375
Number of pages18
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • cognitive
  • harmony
  • priming
  • tonal cadence
  • tonal expectations


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