Musicons: Musically derived audio notifications

Summer Research Internship // Masters Project Research

We define Musicons as extremely brief samples of well-known music used in auditory interface design and propose them as a solution to address this gap in the audio design space. By sampling a short snippet of a music track (0.2s/0.5s/1s), a distinct auditory cue can be created. Musicons can enable designers to exploit existing associations and emotive memories a user may have with a piece of music to create reminders that are abstract in their relationship with the signified as well as being more memorable and potentially easier to learn.


There is a trade-off between ease of comprehension and confidentiality when using audio stimuli, one which is inherent in the difference between the abstract and metaphorical mapping of signifier to signified. Privacy issues arise with metaphorical mapping since others can potentially overhear the explicit reminders. On the other hand, the recipient may find abstract reminders difficult to learn. Below are a selection of the Musicons from our CHI2011 study. We investigated accuracy, memorability and response times for short, medium and long Musicons. User performance on the Musicons was also compared to short spoken reminders.


Overall, participants achieved a high level of accuracy (89%) on the Musicons. Recognition was stable at 90% or better across sessions for users who were able to construct meaningful links between Musicons and the associated tasks. Optimal response times were achieved for medium-length 0.5s Musicons. We concluded that Musicons are a viable option for alarms and notifications that combine the high learnability of Auditory Icons with the more private nature of Earcons.


Short (0.2s)

Medium (0.5s)

Long (1s)

Relevant Publications

This work was started as a summer research project as part of the MultiMemoHome project in collaboration with Marilyn McGee-Lennon, Stephen Brewster, Maria Wolters and Cordelia Hall and was continued as my Master's project.