Learning and Recalling Melodies: A Computational Investigation Using the Melodic Recall Paradigm

Silas, Sebastian and Müllensiefen, Daniel. 2023. Learning and Recalling Melodies: A Computational Investigation Using the Melodic Recall Paradigm. Music Perception, 41(2), pp. 77-109. ISSN 0730-7829 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Using melodic recall paradigm data, we describe an algorithmic approach to assessing melodic learning across multiple attempts. In a first simulation experiment, we reason for using similarity measures to assess melodic recall performance over previously utilized accuracy-based measures. In Experiment 2, with up to six attempts per melody, 31 participants sang back 28 melodies (length 15–48 notes) presented either as a piano sound or a vocal audio excerpt from real pop songs. Our analysis aimed to predict the similarity between the target melody and participants’ sung recalls across successive attempts. Similarity was measured with different algorithmic measures reflecting various structural (e.g., tonality, intervallic) aspects of melodies and overall similarity. However, previous melodic recall research mentioned, but did not model, that the length of the sung recalls tends to increase across attempts, alongside overall performance. Consequently, we modeled how the attempt length changes alongside similarity to meet this omission in the literature. In a mediation analysis, we find that a target melody’s length, but not other melodic features, is the main predictor of similarity via the attempt length. We conclude that sheer length constraints appear to be the main factor when learning melodies long enough to require several attempts to recall. Analytical features of melodic structure may be more important for shorter melodies, or with stimulus sets that are structurally more diverse than those found in the sample of pop songs used in this study.

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© 2023 by the Regents of the University of California all rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s reprints and permissions web page, https://www.ucpress.edu/journals/reprints-permissions.

Sebastian Silas has been supported by a doctoral scholarship from the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes. This project has been partly supported by funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, MU 2722/1 -1) awarded to Daniel Müllensiefen.


melodic memory, melodic similarity, recall memory, melody learning, singing from memory

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9 September 2023Accepted
December 2023Published

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29 Nov 2023 09:51

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01 Dec 2023 02:43

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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