Desain, P. & Honing, H. (2003) The formation of rhythmic categories and metric priming. Perception. 32(3), 341-365.


This paper presents two experiments on categorical rhythm perception. It investigates 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, i.e. where the boundaries of these categories are located. This process of categorization is formalized as the mapping from the continuous space of a series of time intervals to a discrete, symbolic domain of integer ratio sequences. The methodological frame work uses concepts from mathematics and psychics (e.g., convexity and entropy) that allow for precise characterizations of the empirical results.

In the first experiment 29 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 meter subdivision. It is shown that presenting patterns in the context of a meter has a large effect on rhythmic categorization: the presence of a specific musical meter primes the perception of specific rhythmic patterns.

Full paper (pdf)
Animations and sound examples: Appendix
Related work (jazz)