A new study from Aarhus University in Denmark sheds new light on the brain’s capacity to predict musical phrases. Assistant Professor and AIAS fellow Niels Chr. Hansen documents that research participants experience musical phrases in a similar way to spoken sentences. The prediction process occurs when the musical phrase ends with a tone that suggests which notes will follow - and the brain saves these completed phrases in its memory for future predictive use.
According to Niels Chr. Hansen, a fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies who is also affiliated with the Center for Music in the Brain, the brain is constantly predicting what is about to happen while listening to musical phrases, and this challenges the previously held assumption that we experience that a musical phrases has ended only after a new phrase has begun. “We only know a little about how the brain finds out where the boundaries are over time – i.e. when things start and end – and here music provides a perfectly delimited domain to measure something that is otherwise difficult to measure, namely uncertainty,” says Niels Chr. Hansen.
Predictive Uncertainty Underlies Auditory Boundary Perception
Niels Chr Hansen , Haley E Kragness , Peter Vuust , Laurel Trainor, Marcus T Pearce
Psychol Sci 2021 Sep;32(9):1416-1425.