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Mem Cognit. 2010 Jul;38(5):641-50. doi: 10.3758/MC.38.5.641.

Dynamic melody recognition: distinctiveness and the role of musical expertise.

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University of Western Sydney, Penrith South, New South Wales, Australia.


The hypothesis that melodies are recognized at moments when they exhibit a distinctive musical pattern was tested. In a melody recognition experiment, point-of-recognition (POR) data were gathered from 32 listeners (16 musicians and 16 nonmusicians) judging 120 melodies. A series of models of melody recognition were developed, resulting from a stepwise multiple regression of two classes of information relating to melodic familiarity and melodic distinctiveness. Melodic distinctiveness measures were assembled through statistical analyses of over 15,000 Western themes and melodies. A significant model, explaining 85% of the variance, entered measures primarily of timing distinctiveness and pitch distinctiveness, but excluding familiarity, as predictors of POR. Differences between nonmusician and musician models suggest a processing shift from momentary to accumulated information with increased exposure to music. Supplemental materials for this article may be downloaded from

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