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Perception. 2003;32(3):341-65.

The formation of rhythmic categories and metric priming.

Author information

Music, Mind, Machine Group, NICI, University of Nijmegen, PO Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Two experiments on categorical rhythm perception are reported, the object of which was to investigate how listeners perceive discrete rhythmic categories while listening to rhythms performed on a continuous time scale. This is studied by considering the space of all temporal patterns (all possible rhythms made up of three intervals) and how they, in perception, are partitioned into categories, ie where the boundaries of these categories are located. This process of categorisation is formalised as the mapping from the continuous space of a series of time intervals to a discrete, symbolic domain of integer-ratio sequences. The methodological framework uses concepts from mathematics and psychology (eg convexity and entropy) that allow precise characterisations of the empirical results. In the first experiment, twenty-nine participants performed an identification task with 66 rhythmic stimuli (a systematic sampling of the performance space). The results show that listeners do not just perceive the time intervals between onsets of sounds as placed in a homogeneous continuum. Instead, they can reliably identify rhythmic categories, as a chronotopic time clumping map reveals. In a second experiment, the effect of metric priming was studied by presenting the same stimuli but preceded with a duple or triple metre subdivision. It is shown that presenting patterns in the context of a metre has a large effect on rhythmic categorisation: the presence of a specific musical metre primes the perception of specific rhythmic patterns.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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