Melodic expectations in 5- and 6-year-old children

Nina Politimou*, Pedro Douglass-Kirk, Marcus Pearce, Lauren Stewart, Fabia Franco

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


It has been argued that children implicitly acquire the rules relating to the structure of music in their environment using domain-general mechanisms such as statistical learning. Closely linked to statistical learning is the ability to form expectations about future events. Whether children as young as 5 years can make use of such internalized regularities to form expectations about the next note in a melody is still unclear. The possible effect of the home musical environment on the strength of musical expectations has also been under-explored. Using a newly developed melodic priming task that included melodies with either “expected” or “unexpected” endings according to rules of Western music theory, we tested 5- and 6-year-old children (N = 46). The stimuli in this task were constructed using the information dynamics of music (IDyOM) system, a probabilistic model estimating the level of “unexpectedness” of a note given the preceding context. Results showed that responses to expected versus unexpected tones were faster and more accurate, indicating that children have already formed robust melodic expectations at 5 years of age. Aspects of the home musical environment significantly predicted the strength of melodic expectations, suggesting that implicit musical learning may be influenced by the quantity of informal exposure to the surrounding musical environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105020
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • Auditory perception development
  • Expectations
  • Home musical environment
  • Implicit musical learning
  • Melody
  • Priming


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