Memory for sequence order in songs

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


School of Music Studies, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

Place of Publication

Thessaloniki, Greece


School of Psychology and Social Science




MacLauchlan, S., Simba, S., & Speelman, C. (2012, July). Memory for Sequence Order in Songs. In Proceedings of the ICMPC-­‐ESCOM 2012 Joint Conference (p. 944-949). Available here


Previous research on memory for music has typically measured RT and accuracy in tests of recall and recognition of songs. Little research, however, has focused on the ability of people to switch their attention between various parts of a song to answer questions about those parts. One hypothesis is that, because music unfolds in time, one’s ability to consider different parts of a song might be influenced by where in the song someone begins their consideration, and also in which direction they are then asked to switch their attention, with the overriding bias being in a forwards direction. The current study tested this forward bias hypothesis. Fifty people were asked to identify whether the second excerpt of a pair of excerpts taken from a song came ‘before’ or ‘after’ the first excerpt in the normal course of the song. Seven pairs of excerpts, three pairs falling before the target line, and four pairs occurring after the target line, were presented for each of 8 Popular and 2 new songs. It was predicted that RTs for identifying the target lines occurring ‘after’ the probe line would be shorter than those coming ‘before’ the probe line. Results supported this hypothesis. The familiarity of a song did not affect this result. A companion experiment that compared performance on this task for musicians and non-­‐musicians replicated these results, but indicated no effect of musical expertise. These results support the hypothesis that memory for songs is biased in a forward direction.

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