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From 18 - 22 May, the Netherlands will play host to the Eurovision Song Contest. You may still remember some of the songs that have triumphed in the competition over the years, but would you recognise other, less successful Eurovision entries? You can find out while helping the researchers from the Amsterdam Music Lab to investigate the short- and long-term memory elements involved in music cognition.

Is there one sure-fire recipe for creating a hit piece of music? And what makes one song stick in the memory while another is forgotten? The UvA’s Music Cognition Group researchers are using Eurovision songs from the past five years to investigate these questions.

Ashley Burgoyne
Ashley Burgoyne


According to musicologist Ashley Burgoyne, there are four ingredients in a good musical recipe: 1. Repetition (patterns within chorus / melody); 2. Good melody recognition, even without accompaniment of instruments (a cappella); 3. Conventionality (resembles other songs: super small melodic patterns; repeating, ‘not too crazy’ rhythm pattern); 4. Conventionality between the notes (the difference between the highest and the lowest notes should be neither too big nor too small).

‘A good example would be the songs of Simon & Garfunkel,’ says Burgoyne. ‘And the rule of thumb for a hit: 20% is due to the music itself and 80% is due to other factors that are less measurable. For example, the budget or the commitment of the artist's management.’

More challenging

The Eurovision experiment is a follow-up to an experiment done a few years ago, in which the same researchers investigated how quickly people could identify popular pop songs. ‘We made the new experiment a bit more challenging, with music that is less well-known, to test whether our earlier model is still valid,’ says Burgoyne. ‘This time, we have chosen songs from the Eurovision Song Contest, because they are generally songs that people have heard, but not very often.’

Age is usually an important factor in music recognition. But in this case, age seems less important, according to Burgoyne, because the experiment focuses only on the past five years. In the experiment, your musical background is also tested against the Goldsmiths Music Sophistication Index. Burgoyne: ‘Because, depending on your musical experience, you pay greater or lesser attention to certain characteristics.’