Towards a Contour-Pitch Continuum Theory of Memory for Melodies

  • Judy Edworthy


The storage of melody in memory is an issue of central importance not only to the development of musicianship but also to the continual process of learning new melodies. Not only is the memory trace important after a melody has finished, but also while it is actually being heard, the very nature of a melody being a series of temporally ordered tones. This paper will be concerned with the memory for melodies as they are actually being heard. Apart from the obviously important aspects of rhythm, harmony, timbre and so on, an important feature of a melody is that of the relationship of one note to another in terms of two central features. These are pitch, based on the overlearned Western scale, and contour, the sequence of ups and downs independent of the precise pitch relationships. Figure 1 illustrates an example of these two modes of representation.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bentley, A., 1966, “Musical Ability in Children, and its Measurement”, Harrap, London.Google Scholar
  2. Cuddy, L.L., and Cohen, A.J., 1976, Recognition of transposed melodic sequences, Q. J. Exp. Psychol., 28: 255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Davies, J.B., 1979, Memory for melodies and tonal sequences: A theoretical note, Br. J. Psychol., 70: 205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dowling, W.J., 1978, Scale and contour: Two components of a theory of memory for melodies, Psychol. Rev., 85 (4): 341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dowling, W.J. and Fujitani, D.S., 1971, Contour, interval and pitch recognition in memory for melodies, J. Acoust. Soc. Amer., 49 (2 Part 2): 524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Seashore, C., 1960 revision, “Seashore Measures of Musical Talents”, The Psychological Corporation, New York.Google Scholar
  7. Wing, H.D., 1957, “Standardised Tests of Musical Intelligence”, NFER Publishing Co. Ltd., London.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Judy Edworthy
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WarwickEngland

Personalised recommendations