The whole song is greater than the sum of its parts: Local and structural features in music listening

Jonathan Rolison, Judith Edworthy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Four experiments reported here demonstrate the importance of structural as well as local features in listening to contemporary popular music. Experiment 1 established that listeners without formal musical training regard as salient the formal structure that links individual sections of songs. When asked to listen to and assemble the individual sections of unfamiliar contemporary songs to form new compositions, participants positioned the sections in ways consistent with the true structure of the music. In Experiment 2, participants were provided with only the song lyrics with which to arrange the individual sections of contemporary songs. It was found that in addition to musical features
studied in Experiment 1, lyrical content of contemporary music also acts as a strong cue to a song’s formal structure. Experiments 3 and 4 revealed that listeners’ enjoyment of music is influenced both by structural features and local features of music, which were carried by the individual song sections.
The influence of structural features on music listening was most apparent over repeated hearings. In Experiment 4, listeners’ liking for contemporary music followed an inverted U-shape trend with repeated exposure, in which liking for music took a downward turn after just four repeated hearings. In contrast, liking for restructured music increased with repeated hearings and almost eliminated an initial negative effect of restructuring by the sixth hearing. In sum, our findings demonstrate that structural features as well as local features of contemporary music are salient and important to
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-48
Number of pages16
JournalPsychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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