A probabilistic model of melody perception

Cogn Sci. 2008 Mar;32(2):418-44. doi: 10.1080/03640210701864089.


This study presents a probabilistic model of melody perception, which infers the key of a melody and also judges the probability of the melody itself. The model uses Bayesian reasoning: For any "surface" pattern and underlying "structure," we can infer the structure maximizing P(structure|surface) based on knowledge of P(surface, structure). The probability of the surface can then be calculated as ∑ P(surface, structure), summed over all structures. In this case, the surface is a pattern of notes; the structure is a key. A generative model is proposed, based on three principles: (a) melodies tend to remain within a narrow pitch range; (b) note-to-note intervals within a melody tend to be small; and (c) notes tend to conform to a distribution (or key profile) that depends on the key. The model is tested in three ways. First, it is tested on its ability to identify the keys of a set of folksong melodies. Second, it is tested on a melodic expectation task in which it must judge the probability of different notes occurring given a prior context; these judgments are compared with perception data from a melodic expectation experiment. Finally, the model is tested on its ability to detect incorrect notes in melodies by assigning them lower probabilities than the original versions.