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Re: Rhythm perception (is really speech rhythm perception)

According to my "super-stimulus" theory of music (http://whatismusic.info/), the primary purpose of the cortical maps that respond to regular musical rhythms is to perceive the irregular rhythms of speech in a time-scaling invariant manner (i.e. the same rhythm at different tempos). My theory imposes an additional constraint on any theory of rhythm perception, in that it requires that the perception of musical rhythms must result in geometrical patterns of neural activity which are more constant than is the case when perceiving speech rhythms, and which have clearly defined perimeters between active and inactive regions.

This theory is consistent with the incremental perception of beat, because the purpose of rhythm perception must be to label the components of speech rhythm as they occur, as being more or less part of a regular rhythm. There is no purpose to "find" the regular beat, because in general there are no regular beats in speech. It's like Fourier analysis, which happens to produce a well-defined result for regular repeating signals, but can be quite useful in the characterisation of non-regular non-repeating signals.

The theory is also consistent with the observation that the ability to perceive musical rhythms is uniquely human (since speech is uniquely human).

Philip Dorrell.

Henkjan Honing wrote:

On 15 Nov 2005, at 16:56, Leon van Noorden wrote:

I would say that finding the downbeat comes after beat induction.

The insight of Longuet-Higgins (sorry to keep promoting him) was that determining the “downbeat,” and consequently the perception of a beat, is essentially an incremental process. The first note you hear is, of course, by definition the downbeat. When hearing a second one you can choose, after n notes there are innumerable possibilities: “in principle infinitely ambiguous, but this ambiguity is seldom apparent to the listener.” So, which one comes first is a relative notion.

Next to this I am convinced that the notion of “downbeat” (i.e. phase, not period) is indeed a cultural phenomenon – the “Maracatu” example (mentioned by Dan) being a good example.


P.S. It might be interesting to note is that the ability pick up a regular beat from a sound signal, even while it is not explicitly in the rhythm, is a typical (almost uniquely) human cognitive skill, that allow us to synchronize, clap, dance and make music together.


Henkjan Honing
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Music Cognition Group
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