We conducted four tests of the conjecture that higher musical pitch coincides with faster musical speeds in composition and performance. First, a ‘notewise’ examination of Western musical scores tested whether longer (i.e., slower) notes tend to have lower pitches. Results were genre-dependent, with three of six sampled styles exhibiting the predicted effect. A second study considered an independent sample of Western music part-by-part and found that lower musical voices tend to have significantly fewer notes than higher voices. The third study used instrumental recordings to directly measure event onset densities in notes per second. A strong correlation (rs = .74, p < .002) between performed note speed and an instrument’s pitch range (tessitura) was found. Finally, a fourth study indicated that Baroque ornaments are more likely to appear in higher musical parts. Considered together, these four studies suggest a pitch-speed relationship that is most evident when the methodology preserves the notion of musical ‘line.’ We outline several possible origins for the observed effect.
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