Context and meter enhance long-range planning in music performance

Brian Mathias, Peter Q Pfordresher, Caroline Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Neural responses demonstrate evidence of resonance, or oscillation, during the production of periodic auditory events. Music contains periodic auditory events that give rise to a sense of beat, which in turn generates a sense of meter on the basis of multiple periodicities. Metrical hierarchies may aid memory for music by facilitating similarity-based associations among sequence events at different periodic distances that unfold in longer contexts. A fundamental question is how metrical associations arising from a musical context influence memory during music performance. Longer contexts may facilitate metrical associations at higher hierarchical levels more than shorter contexts, a prediction of the range model, a formal model of planning processes in music performance (Palmer and Pfordresher, 2003; Pfordresher et al., 2007). Serial ordering errors, in which intended sequence events are produced in incorrect sequence positions, were measured as skilled pianists performed musical pieces that contained excerpts embedded in long or short musical contexts. Pitch errors arose from metrically similar positions and further sequential distances more often when the excerpt was embedded in long contexts compared to short contexts. Musicians' keystroke intensities and error rates also revealed influences of metrical hierarchies, which differed for performances in long and short contexts. The range model accounted for contextual effects and provided better fits to empirical findings when metrical associations between sequence events were included. Longer sequence contexts may facilitate planning during sequence production by increasing conceptual similarity between hierarchically associated events. These findings are consistent with the notion that neural oscillations at multiple periodicities may strengthen metrical associations across sequence events during planning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1040
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

This work was funded in part by a McGill University Tomlinson Fellowship and National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to the first author, a National Science Foundation Grant BCS-1256964 to the second author, and a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Grant 298173 and a Canada Research Chair to the third author. We thank Maxwell Anderson, Frances Spidle, and Anna Zamm for assistance.


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