There is a need to search for universals in our tonal experience of music which arise as a consequence of our perceptual and cognitive processes and which do not require a specific tonal setting for demonstration. Certain findings in perceptual and cognitive psychology are considered in this light. These include the perceptual and cognitive advantages of melodic sequences that consist of small melodic intervals rather than large and the emphasis placed by the cognitive system on notes of long duration. These two phenomena form the basis of a proposed theory of melodic centering. It is argued that the present approach can form the basis for the building of specialized descriptions of tonality, appropriate to different musical styles and idioms.