We report two experiments exploring whether matched metrical and motivic structure facilitate the recognition of melodic patterns. Eight tonal melodies were composed from binary (four-note) or ternary (three-note) motivic patterns, and were each presented within a metrical context that either matched or mismatched the pattern. On each trial, participants heard patterns twice and performed a same-different task; in half the trials, one pitch in the second presentation was altered. Performance was analyzed using signal detection analyses of sensitivity and response bias. In Experiment 1, expert listeners showed greater sensitivity to pitch change when metrical context matched motivic pattern structure than when they conflicted (an effect of metrical encoding) and showed no response bias. Novice listeners, however, did not show an effect of metrical encoding, exhibiting lower sensitivity and a bias toward responding “same.” In a second experiment using only novices, each trial contained five presentations of the standard followed by one presentation of the comparison. Sensitivity to changes improved relative to Experiment 1: evidence for metrical encoding – in the form of reduced response bias when meter and motive matched – was found. Results support the metrical encoding hypothesis and suggest that the use of metrical encoding may develop with expertise.

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