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Metrical Restoration From Local and Global Melodic Cues


What factors influence listeners’ perception of meter in a musical piece or a musical style? Many cues are available in the musical “surface,” i.e., the pattern of sounds physically present during listening. Models of meter processing focus on the musical surface. However, percepts of meter and other musical features may also be shaped by reactivation of previously heard music, consistent with exemplar accounts of memory. The current study explores a phenomenon that is here termed metrical restoration: listeners who hear melodies with ambiguous meters report meter preferences that match previous listening experiences in the lab, suggesting reactivation of those experiences. Previous studies suggested that timbre and brief rhythmic patterns may influence metrical restoration. However, variations in the magnitude of effects in different experiments suggest that other factors are at work. Experiments reported here explore variation in metrical restoration as a function of: melodic diversity in timbre and tempo, associations of rhythmic patterns with particular melodies and meters, and associations of meter with overall melodic form. Rhythmic patterns and overall melodic form, but not timbre, had strong influences. Results are discussed with respect to style-specific or culture-specific musical processing, and everyday listening experiences. Implications for models of musical memory are also addressed.

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