Melody has been defined as a distinct perceptual unit that exhibits stability and coherence to listeners and performers. These psychological processes (distinctiveness, stability, coherence) contribute to the foundations of three theories of music cognition (Bregman, 1990; Krumhansl, 1990; Narmour, 1990), yet several mysteries still exist in the human experience of melody. From early exposure to lullabies and brief exposures in advertising jingles, to the full-length concert exposure of complex musical works, listeners’ imagination and focus are captured in unique ways by the experience of melody. People with various amounts of musical training hum, tap, clap, and find other ways of interacting with a melody; they perform to it. Listeners report the experience of a recurring melody playing in their minds (earworms). I discuss neuroscience findings that aid in modeling the fine-level time course of melodic experiences, and address how the listener/performer identifies a melody as distinct in a complex auditory scene, how expectations unfold in implications and realizations that contribute to coherence, and how hierarchical tonal relationships of stability are detected. The life cycle of a melody in the ears, brain, and heart of a listener/performer sheds light on the human experience of music.
- Received December 1, 2014.
- Accepted January 21, 2015.
- © 2015 by The Regents of the University of California