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maximum tatum (one tatum, two tata)

A variety of phenomena have been mentioned in connection with the
"tatum", but has anyone given a clear definition of the tatum? Who
coined that term in the first place? I have encountered it only once
previously, in Vijay Iyer's dissertation. Is he the inventor of the

Brian Whitman, in the original message leading to this discussion,
referred to "the maximum amount of discrete musical events a person
can identify in a second". One needs to ask: What kinds of musical
events? Identify in what way?

I would like to argue that the minimal tatum be defined as the
inter-onset interval between successive identical sounds in an
isochronous sequence at which it becomes impossible to reliably
synchronize an action (such as a finger tap) with any single event or
with periodically recurring events in the sequence (e.g., every
fourth event). This is the limit that was investigated by Bartlett &
Bartlett (1959) and more recently by me, and which seems to be around
100 ms for musically trained (but not highly expert) participants.
This limit may be different in realistic musical sequences, where
higher-order periodicities, auditory streaming, pitch contours, and
other factors may play a role. Also, experts such as professional
percussionists perhaps could go a tiny bit faster.

If there are other, better definitions of the tatum, I'd be
interested to learn about them.

Bruno H. Repp
Senior Research Scientist
Haskins Laboratories
270 Crown Street
New Haven, CT 06511-6695
Tel. (203) 865-6163, ext. 236
FAX (203) 865-8963
e-mail: repp@haskins.yale.edu