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Melodic expectation

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Title: Melodic expectation  
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Subject: Music psychology, Implication-Realization, Musical analysis, Pensato, Music cognition
Collection: Music Cognition, Music Psychology, Musical Analysis
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Melodic expectation

In music cognition and musical analysis, the study of melodic expectation considers the engagement of the brain's predictive mechanisms in response to music.[1] For example, if the ascending musical partial octave "do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-..." is heard, listeners familiar with Western music will have a strong expectation to hear or provide one more note, "do", to complete the octave.

Melodic expectation can been considered at the esthesic level,[2] in which case the focus lies on the listener and its response to music.[1] It can be considered at the neutral level,[2] in which case the focus switches to the actual musical content, such as the "printed notes themselves".[3] At the neutral level, the observer may consider logical implications projected onto future elements by past elements[4][5] or derive statistical observations from information theory.[6]


  • A multifaceted concept 1
  • Leonard Meyer 2
  • Generative Theory of Tonal Music (GTTM) 3
  • Implication-Realization model 4
  • Bimbot and al.'s System & Contrast model 5
  • Margulis's model of melodic expectation 6
  • Farbood's model of musical tension 7
  • Larson's musical forces 8
  • Huron's theory of general expectation 9
  • References 10

A multifaceted concept

The notion of melodic expectation has prompted the existence of a corpus of studies in which authors often choose to provide their own terminology in place of using the literature's.[5] This results in an important number of different terms that all point towards the phenomenon of musical expectation:[5][7]

  • Anticipation.[8][9][10]
  • Arousal.[11]
  • Deduction.[12]
  • Directionality.[13][14][15]
  • Expectancy, expectation, expectedness, and in French attente.[1][7][8][9][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]
  • Facilitation.[8][15][19]
  • Implication / realization.[7][9][12][15][26][27]
  • Implication (independent from realization).[11][19]
  • Induction.[8][9][12]
  • Inertia.[9][17][28]
  • Musical force(s).[28]
  • Previsibility, predictibility and prediction.[6][8][9][11][17][29][30][31][32]
  • Resolution.[7][13][15][19][23][26][33]
  • Tension / release, tension / relaxation.[7][9][17][34]
  • Closure, which may be used as the ending of the expectation process,[1][35] as a group boundary,[27] or as both simultaneously.[34]

Expectation can also be found mentioned in relation to concepts originating from the field of information theory such as entropy.[6][8][11][16][29][30][31][32] Hybridization of information theory and humanities results into the birth of yet other notions, particularly variations upon the notion of entropy modified for the need of description of musical content.[36]

Consideration of musical expectation can be sorted into four trends.[5]

  • A first trend may include publications written in the 1950s by Meyer, Younblood and Krahenbuehl & Coons that are concerned with objectivization and rationalization of the concepts of arousal, uncertainty, or non-confirmation of a prediction using information theory.[6][11][37]
  • A third trend may provide quantitative models based on computer algorithms, such as Margulis' model of melodic expectation or Farbood's model of musical tension.[7][15]
  • A fourth trend may group generalist theories whose focus lies neither in step-by-step processes nor in quantitative operations, and may include elements pertinent to the esthesic level such as cognition and neurophysiology. This includes Larson's "musical forces"[28] and Huron's theory of general expectation.[10]

Leonard Meyer

Leonard Meyer's Emotion and Meaning in Music[38] is the classic text in music expectation. Meyer's starting point is the belief that the experience of music (as a listener) is derived from one's emotions and feelings about the music, which themselves are a function of relationships within the music itself. Meyer writes that listeners bring with them a vast body of musical experiences that, as one listens to a piece, conditions one's response to that piece as it unfolds. Meyer argued that music's evocative power derives from its capacity to generate, suspend, prolongate, or violate these expectations.

Meyer models listener expectation in two levels. On a perceptual level, Meyer draws on Gestalt psychology to explain how listeners build mental representations of auditory phenomena. Above this raw perceptual level, Meyer argues that learning shapes (and re-shapes) one's expectations over time.

Generative Theory of Tonal Music (GTTM)

Implication-Realization model

Narmour's (1992) Implication-Realization (I-R) Model is a detailed formalization based on Meyer's work on expectation. A fundamental difference between Narmour's models and most theories of expectation lies in the author's conviction according to which a genuine theory should be formulated in falsifiable terms. According to Narmour, prior knowledge of musical expectation is based too heavily upon percepts, introspection and internalization, which bring insoluble epistemological problems.[3] The theory focuses on how implicative intervals set up expectations for certain realizations to follow. The I-R model includes two primary factors: proximity and direction.[3][4][24][25] Lerdahl extended the system by developing a tonal pitch space and adding a stability factor (based on Lerdahl's prior work) and a mobility factor.[39]

Bimbot and al.'s System & Contrast model

Mainly developed at IRISA since 2011 by Frédéric Bimbot and Emmanuel Deruty, the system & contrast or S&C model of implication[5][40][41][42][43] derives from the two fundamental hypotheses underlying the I-R model.[4] It is rooted in Narmour's conviction according to which any model of expectation should be expressed in logical, falsifiable terms.[3] It operates at the neutral level and differs from the I-R model in several regards:

  • while Narmour's two fundamental hypotheses address the relations between three elements,[4] the fundamental hypotheses leading to the S&C model address the relations between four elements. Therefore, it can be considered as more directly suited to the classical sentence and period forms,[44] as well as to popular music forms;[5][41]
  • while Narmour's I-R model addresses one-dimensional relations,[5][12] the S&C model includes relations on two potentially independent dimensions;
  • the S&C model may encompass all aspects of the musical language, not only the melodic structure.[5][40][41][42][43]

Margulis's model of melodic expectation

Margulis's 2005 model[15] further extends the I-R model. First, Margulis added a melodic attraction factor, from some of Lerdahl's work. Second, while the I-R model relies on a single (local) interval to establish an implication (an expectation), Margulis attempts to model intervalic (local) expectation as well as more deeply schematic (global) expectation. For this, Margulis relies on Lerdahl's and Jackendoff's GTTM[34] to provide a time-span reduction. At each hierarchical level (a different time scale) in the reduction, Margulis applies her model. These separate levels of analysis are combined through averaging, with each level weighted according to values derived from the time-span reduction. Finally, Margulis's model is explicit and realizable, and yields quantitative output. The output - melodic expectation at each time instant - is a single function of time.

Margulis's model describes three distinct types of listener reactions, each derived from listener-experienced tension:

  • Surprise-Tension: inversely proportional to degree of expectancy; results in intensity or dynamism.
  • Denial-Tension: proportional to the discrepancy between the expectancy of the most expected event and the expectancy of the actually perceived event; results in desire, drive, will.
  • Expectancy-Tension: proportional to the degree of expectancy of the most expected event (in other words, if the listener had no idea what to expect next, the expectancy-tension would be low); results in strain or yearning.[7]

Farbood's model of musical tension

Larson's musical forces

Huron's theory of general expectation


  1. ^ a b c d Elizabeth H. Margulis (2007). "Surprise and Listening Ahead: Analytical Engagements with Musical Tendencies". Music Theory Spectrum, XXIX/2. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ a b Jean-Jacques Nattiez (1992). Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Musicologie générale et sémiologie), translated by Carolyn Abbate. Princeton University Press.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Eugene Narmour (1992). The Analysis and Cognition of Melodic Complexity: the Implication-Realization model. University of Chicago Press.  
  4. ^ a b c d e Eugene Narmour (1990). The Analysis and Cognition of Basic Melodic Structures: The Implication-Realization Model. University of Chicago Press.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Emmanuel Deruty, Frédéric Bimbot and Brigitte van Wymeersch (2013). "Methodological and musicological investigation of the System & Contrast model for musical form description". INRIA/Université Catholique de Louvain. Retrieved 2014-11-09. 
  6. ^ a b c d Joseph E. Youngblood (1958). "Style as information". Journal of Music Theory, II/1. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Morwaread M. Farbood (2006). "A quantitative, parametric model of musical tension, submitted to the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Tod Machover, supervisor)" (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2014-11-12. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f Fabien Lévy (2004). "Complexité grammatologique et complexité aperceptive en musique, submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the EHESS (Jean-Marc Chouvel, Marc Chemillier, directors)" (PDF) (in French). Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Retrieved 2014-11-11. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g William F. Thompson (2007). "David Huron, Sweet anticipation: music and the psychology of expectation". Empirical Musicology Review, II/2. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  10. ^ a b David Huron (2006). Sweet anticipation: music and the psychology of expectation. M.I.T. Press.  
  11. ^ a b c d e Leonard B. Meyer (1957). "Meaning in music and information theory". Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, XV/4. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  12. ^ a b c d Eugene Narmour (2000). "Music expectation by cognitive rule-mapping". Music Perception, XVII/3. Retrieved 2014-11-09. (subscription required (help)). 
  13. ^ a b Vincent Arlettaz (2000). Musica Ficta, une histoire des sensibles du XIIIe au XVIe siècle (in French). Sprimont, Pierre Mardaga Editeur.  
  14. ^ Joel Lester (2002). Rameau and eighteenth-century harmonic theory, The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, directed by Thomas Christensen. Cambridge University Press.  
  15. ^ a b c d e f Elizabeth H. Margulis (2005). "A model of melodic expectation". Music Perception. (subscription required (help)). 
  16. ^ a b Samer Abdallah and Mark Plumbley (2009). "Information dynamics: patterns of expectation and surprise in the perception of music". Connection Science, XXI/2-3. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  17. ^ a b c d Rita Aiello (2007). "David Huron, Sweet anticipation: music and the psychology of expectation". Empirical Musicology Review, II/2. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  18. ^ Jamshed J. Bharucha (1993). Tonality and Expectation, in Musical Perceptions pp. 213-239, edited by Rita Aiello. Oxford University Press.  
  19. ^ a b c d Jamshed J. Bharucha (1987). "Music Cognition and Perceptual Facilitation: A Connectionist Framework". Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, V/1. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  20. ^ James C. Carlsen (1981). "Some factors which influence melodic expectancy". Psychomusicology, I. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
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  22. ^ Mark A. Schmukler (1989). "Expectation in music: Investigation of melodic and harmonic processes". Music Perception, VII. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
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  24. ^ a b E. Glenn Schellenberg (1996). "Expectancy in melody: tests of the implication-realization model". Cognition, LVIII/1. (subscription required (help)). 
  25. ^ a b E. Glenn Schellenberg (1997). "Simplifying the Implication-Realization Model of Melodic Expectancy". Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, XIV/3. (subscription required (help)). 
  26. ^ a b Naomi Cumming (1992). "Eugene Narmour's Theory of Melody". Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
  27. ^ a b Bob Snyder (2001). Music and Memory. M.I.T Press.  
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  33. ^ Julie Rushton. "Resolution". Grove Music Online. Retrieved 2013-07-01. (subscription required (help)). 
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  35. ^ Kofi Agawu (1992). "Theory and Practice in the Analysis of the Nineteenth-Century Lied". Music Analysis, XI/1. Retrieved 2014-11-11. (subscription required (help)). 
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  39. ^ Fred Lerdahl (2001). Tonal Pitch Space. Oxford University Press.  
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