Honing, H. (2010). Beat-induction as a fundamental musical skill. Proceedings of the International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition. Seattle: University of Washington.


In order to understand how humans can learn to understand music, we need to discover what perceptual capabilities infants are born with. In this paper we address beat induction: the ability to sense beat (a regular pulse in an auditory signal; termed ‘tactus’ in music theory) that helps individuals to synchronize their movements with each other, such as necessary for dancing or producing music together. A recent study tested beat induction in sleeping newborn babies (Honing et al., 2009; Winkler et al., 2009), by assessing whether or not the neonate auditory system forms expectation for the onset (downbeat) of the cycle in a regular rhythmic sound sequence. The results demonstrated that violating the beat of a rhythmic sound sequence is detected by the brain of newborn infants (showing a MMN). Apparently newborn infants develop an expectation for the ‘downbeat’, even when it is not marked by stress or other distinguishing spectral features. Omitting the downbeat elicits brain activity associated with violating sensory expectations. It appears that the capability of detecting a regular pulse in rhythmic sound sequences is already functional at birth. The potential consequences of these findings for musical development, biology of music, and the origins of music will be discussed.

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