The Effect of Beam Slope on the Perception of Melodic Contour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Musical score reading is a complex task, which involves attending and interpreting multiple visual constituents that are graphically congested. The present investigation examined the ‘beam’, which although consistently found in music notation, is typically considered as providing no more information than marking metric boundaries (i.e., chunking). However, we provide evidence here that beams enhance visual perception of contour. In Study 1, a Stroop-like paradigm was used in which participants were required to judge the direction of notes or the beam in a compound figure; the two dimensions were either congruent or incongruent. A congruency effect was observed in both tasks, confirming that both notes and beam are processed automatically during score reading. In Study 2, an additional auditory stimulus was presented. The results not only replicated the findings of Study 1, but showed that beams affect both visual and auditory perception. Finally, group differences surfaced: musicians were more affected by the direction of notes than non-musicians when attending to beams, but the effect of beams on judging note direction was comparable in both groups. The implications for understanding musical score reading – specifically issues related to melodic contour – are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-199
Number of pages10
JournalActa Psychologica
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • Beams
  • Melodic contour
  • Music-notation
  • Score-reading
  • Stroop-like task

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'The Effect of Beam Slope on the Perception of Melodic Contour'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this