Cognitive abilities Music Music perception

Contour Perception

When you listen to music, a salient element that helps you processing and remembering a certain music piece is the melodic contour. This can be defined as the up and down pattern that is created by the pitch change direction. For example, if the notes in the melody are increasing in pitch one after the other, the contour will be defined as “ascending”. In the opposite case, we will have a descending pattern.

Interestingly, contour is not only elicited by pitch change (i.e., in melodies), but it can be present also with other types of stimuli that are not directly related to music. For example, contour can be elicited by varying the loudness of a tone, or the luminance of an image.

We have currently a collaboration with Dr. Barbara Tillmann (University of Bourgogne), and Dr. Anne Caclin (Center of Neuroscience of Lyon -CNRL), to investigate more deeply the underlying mechanisms of contour perception with visual (i.e., luminance) stimuli.

A lab experiment assessing different individual skills in auditory and visual perception and memory will help us better understand how people process contour in a non-musical context.


Dowling, W. J. (1994). Melodic contour in hearing and remembering melodies.

Graves, J. E., Pralus, A., Fornoni, L., Oxenham, A. J., Caclin, A., Tillmann, B. (2019). Short- and long-term memory for pitch and non-pitch contours: Insights from congenital amusia. Brain and Cognition, 136, 103614.

Talamini, F., Blain, S., Ginzburg, J. et al. (2022) Auditory and visual short-term memory: influence of material type, contour, and musical expertise. Psychological Research 86, 421–442.

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