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Re: Rhythm perception


The start of a rhythmic pattern does not always coincide with the downbeat of a measure,
so the relationship of beat (or meter) perception to the percept of "pattern" is not so clear.

In music theoretic terms, the distinction is often made between grouping (delimiting phrases,
or "patterns") and meter. For an excellent example of this distinction, see
Lerdahl, F., & Jackendoff, R. (1983). A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge: MIT Press.

It is also important to note that the beginning of a repeating rhythmic pattern is a highly ambiguous percept. Garner & Gottwald demonstrated repeating patterns with 1, 2, 3, 4 and even 5 (if memory serves) possible starting points.

Garner, W. R., & Gottwald, R. L. (1968). The perception and learning of temporal patterns. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 20 (2), 97-109.

Garner & Gottwald explained their results in Gestalt terms. More recently, Boker & Kubovy have
replicated the basic result and attempted to explain the phenomenon in information processing terms:

Boker, S. M., & Kubovy, M. (1998). The perception of segmentation in sequences: Local information provides the building blocks of global structure. In D. A. Rosenbaum & C. E. Collyer (Eds.), Timing of behavior: Neural, computational, and psychological perspectives. (pp. 109-123). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hope this helps,


Edward Large, Associate Professor
Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences
Florida Atlantic University

On Nov 15, 2005, at 8:21 AM, Henkjan Honing wrote:

I guess the problem you refer to is "beat induction": how do listeners arrive at a metrical interpretion when listening to a rhythm. H.C. Longuet-Higgins was one of the first to address the problem in a computational way (see H.C. Longuet-Higgings, Mental Proceses. Studies in cognitive sciences, MIT press, 1987). The literature since then is vast, approaching the problem with a wide variety of computational paradigms (see, e.g., * for an overview, or the papers in the "foot-tapping" session at ICMC 1992; **).

Henkjan Honing

*  http://www.hum.uva.nl/mmm/abstracts/dh-100.html
** http://www.hum.uva.nl/mmm/mmm-2003/fun/beat.html

On 15 Nov 2005, at 13:40, John ffitch wrote:

We were discussing rhythm patterns the other day and the question came
up about how one determined the start of a pattern. If there is a
heavy emphasis on one beat of the sequence then I can understand that
that is taken as the first beat.
But if the sequence is unemphasised how does one decide? Or do
people decide differently, or is it cultural?

I am not sure where to start to look -- as ever this is outside my
general field of study -- but I though this list might be the place
to ask for clues.

I hope I have explained the question sufficiently!

==John ffitch


Henkjan Honing
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Music Cognition Group
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