Master’s thesis completed

How Do We Recognize a Song in One Second? the Importance of Salience and Sound in Music Perception

Thesis for partial fulfilment of the Cand. Philol. degree (MA) in Music Technology
Department of Music and Theatre, University of Oslo, 2002


This project started with the observation that we manage to recognize a song by listening to only a second of it. What perceptual and musical features make this possible, and can such features be used in music analysis and music information retrieval? These questions can be broken down to two main problems: a) segregation of sensory input and b) recognition of musical features.

The segregation of musical information from a complex soundscape is discussed with reference to theories of auditory scene analysis and music perception. A problem is that there is still no good way to make computers separate sound streams in a way similar to human perception. When it comes to the recognition process, the thesis focuses on what musical features make a song more or less recognizable. It is argued that a song is recognized quicker if there is some salient, or perceptually significant, feature present. Then it is shown how salience points can be analysed with reference to traditional musical parameters such as melody, harmony, rhythm and dynamics. This discussion leads to an acknowledgment of the significance of sound in music perception. Next, different methods of analysing, visualizing and synthesizing sound, or more specifically instrument timbre, is shown. Finally, theories of artificial neural networks are outlined, with an example of training a feedforward network with timbre. The success of this simulation is taken as an indication that connectionist models
may resemble human perception.

Throughout the thesis, several examples are shown of how the graphical programming environment MAX/MSP can be used experimentally in music analysis. The thesis concludes that investigating short term music excerpts might be interesting in music analysis. Due to the limitations of our short term memory, such short passages may reveal noteworthy aspects of music perception. It is also suggested that music theory could benefit from studying salience points and paying more attention to the sound of music.



Jensenius, A. R. (2002). How do we recognize a song in one second? The importance of salience and sound in music perception. Cand. philol. thesis, University of Oslo.

 Address = {Oslo, Norway},
 Author = {Jensenius, Alexander Refsum},
 School = {University of Oslo},
 Title = {How Do We Recognize a Song in One Second? The Importance of Salience and Sound in Music Perception},
 Type = {Cand. philol. thesis},
 Url = {},
 Year = {2002}}

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Alexander Refsum Jensenius is a music researcher and research musician living in Oslo, Norway.