How our brains instantly recognize music


Source: Firmbee/Pixabay

Wordle’s massive international appeal has inspired a string of similar online games. Hedel is a particularly successful spin-off aimed at music lovers. The Heardle app selects a song from a large collection of popular music every day, and the goal of the game is to guess the song name and artist after hearing a short excerpt of the song. The first attempt is made after only one second of the song, if unsuccessful, the listener can try again with two seconds of music, and so on, up to six attempts (six seconds of music).

As a music psychologist, I can’t help but notice how Huddle intuitively builds on ideas we’ve been working on long-term memory Music of the past few decades. For example, Carol Krumhansl conducted a seminal study using 28 popular songs released between 1960 and 2010, such as Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” When presented with segments of only 0.4 seconds in duration from these songs, listeners in the study were able to correctly identify the song’s title and artist 25% of the time (Krumhansl, 2010). This shows that many people can successfully identify songs from clips that are less than half the duration of the initial one-second clip provided by Heardle!

Furthermore, in Krumhansl’s study, listeners were very good at identifying the decade of a song’s release and the song’s emotional expression from these very short snippets, even if they couldn’t pinpoint the exact song title. Another recent study of this phenomenon (Faubion-Trejo & Mantell, 2022) showed that in order to identify songs from these short clips, listeners (even those with minimal musical training) rely on their perception of specific pitches and timbres (instrument) music of memory. As a result, everyday music listeners have excellent long-term memories of familiar songs, even when presented with such short snippets of songs that they provide little information about other key features of the song, such as rhythm, melody, or lyrics.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, musical taste also plays an important role in whether people can identify songs from short music clips. In fact, some studies have found a significant correlation between whether participants identify a song and how much they like it (eg, Jakubowski et al., 2020). That said, fans of pop music fared much better at Heardle than jazz connoisseurs.Fortunately for metal heads, a Heavy metal version of Heardle Launched this month. Perhaps other genre-specific derivatives will follow to more directly cater to users’ musical preferences.

In general, research shows that people more accurately identify when they are puberty than earlier or later songs. This phenomenon, known as “memory collision,” goes beyond music: we are generally better at remembering events and cultural items between the ages of 10 and 30 (Rubin et al., 1998). In my research group, we found that music-related memory peaks around age 14 (Jakubowski et al., 2020). That said, we want Heardle users to be most effective at identifying songs they’ve released around the age of 14.

So why are so many people so fond of identifying popular songs on Heardle?recent Neuroscience Theory proposes that the main function of the brain is to make accurate predictions of upcoming events and information. In the context of listening to music, the act of correctly predicting what will happen next to a piece of music has been shown to activate the brain’s reward system (Salimpoor et al., 2011). The reward system is a set of brain structures hidden beneath pleasure.The same brain systems are activated during a range of pleasurable activities, from eating a delicious meal to gender.

Furthermore, even hearing a small piece of music in Heardle may activate autobiographical memories associated with that music (Jakubowski and Ghosh, 2021). A snippet of a particular song might effortlessly transport listeners back to when they first heard it as teenagers in a friend’s car, or when they finally got up the courage to invite a longtime crush on the dance floor. The School Prom. So the power of music is often not just in the sound itself, but in the emotions and memories it can evoke.

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