During the early twentieth century, art music composers pushed Western tonality to the limits and eventually abandoned tonality altogether, creating a system that treated every pitch equally. This atonal system broke down all keys and harmonic progressions that are cornerstones of Western musical pitch hierarchy. Through an extensive review of current literature, this research aims to show that the concept of hierarchy, present in tonal but not atonal music, is central to music perception. This presentation will explore the role hierarchy in music perception through several means: examining the physical nature of sound on a mathematical basis, determining innate structures of music perception and investigating the neurobiology of tonal perception. Research will also seek to understand structural aspects of atonal music and how these structures are perceived, with the final conclusion that atonal musical structures do not facilitate music perception to the same degree as tonal structures since they lack fundamental pitch hierarchy.
Stetz, Gabrielle, "Deconstructing Chaos: The Role of Pitch Hierarchy in Music Perception" (2014). Student Research Day Abstracts and Posters. 38.