University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


Expectation plays a vital role in understanding how we experience music. Processing music requires listeners to form expectations about upcoming events as they unfold. The formation and violation of these expectations has been empirically tested in harmonic priming paradigms, in harmonic priming during melodies, and in more general divided attention models. Recent research has also suggested that passive exposure to music leads to the development of implicit knowledge about musical expectations for untrained as well as trained listeners. Expectation has even been cited by the theorist Leonard Meyer as "the prime generator of musical affect" (qtd. in Margulis, 2005). Expectation therefore not only plays a role in how listeners process melodies, but might also provide evidence as to why musical events produce affective response in listeners. Unfortunately, much of the psychological research concerning expectation in music has appropriated a commonplace definition of the term "expectation," and in fact fails to address the difficulties in rendering the term more accessible to empirical scrutiny. Such a decision most likely reflects a lack of awareness of the dynamic nature of listener expectations. Is it possible to consider the subtle and more nuanced variations of expectation, such as events that invoke a sense of surprise, yearning, or foreboding?

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