Repository logo

Measuring children’s harmonic knowledge with implicit and explicit tests

Faculty Advisor




music, harmony, children, development, music training

Abstract (summary)

We used implicit and explicit tasks to measure knowledge of Western harmony in musically trained and untrained Canadian children. Younger children were 6-7 years of age; older children were 10-11. On each trial, participants heard a sequence of five piano chords. The first four chords established a major-key context. The final chord was the standard, expected tonic of the context or one of two deviant endings: the highly unexpected flat supertonic or the moderately unexpected subdominant. In the implicit task, children identified the timbre of the final chord (guitar or piano) as quickly as possible. Response times were faster for the tonic ending than for either deviant ending, but the magnitude of the priming effect was similar for the two deviants, and the effect did not vary as a function of age or music training. In the explicit task, children rated how good each chord sequence sounded. Ratings were highest for sequences with the tonic ending, intermediate for the subdominant, and lowest for the flat supertonic. Moreover, the difference between the tonic and deviant sequences was larger for older children with music training. Thus, the explicit task provided a more nuanced picture of musical knowledge than did the implicit task.

Publication Information

Corrigall, Kathleen A., Barbara Tillmann, E. Glenn Schellenberg; Measuring Children’s Harmonic Knowledge with Implicit and Explicit Tests. Music Perception 1 April 2022; 39 (4): 361–370.


Item Type

Article Post-Print



All Rights Reserved