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Mem Cognit. 1997 Jul;25(4):518-33.

Recognition of music in long-term memory: are melodic and temporal patterns equal partners?

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Département de Psychologie, Université de Montréal, Quebec, Canada.


The notion that the melody (i.e., pitch structure) of familiar music is more recognizable than its accompanying rhythm (i.e., temporal structure) was examined with the same set of nameable musical excerpts in three experiments. In Experiment 1, the excerpts were modified so as to keep either their original pitch variations, whereas durations were set to isochrony (melodic condition) or their original temporal pattern while played on a single constant pitch (rhythmic condition). The subjects, who were selected without regard to musical training, were found to name more tunes and to rate their feeling of knowing the musical excerpts far higher in the melodic condition than in the rhythmic condition. These results were replicated in Experiment 2, wherein the melodic and rhythmic patterns of the musical excerpts were interchanged to create chimeric mismatched tunes. The difference in saliency of the melodic pattern and the rhythmic pattern also emerged with a music-title-verification task in Experiment 3, hence discarding response selection as the main source of the discrepancy. The lesser effectiveness of rhythmic structure appears to be related to its lesser encoding distinctiveness relative to melodic structure. In general, rhythm was found to be a poor cue for the musical representations that are stored in long-term memory. Nevertheless, in all three experiments, the most effective cue for music identification involved the proper combination of pitches and durations. Therefore, the optimal code of access to long-term memory for music resides in a combination of rhythm and melody, of which the latter would be the most informative.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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