Infants use meter to categorize rhythms and melodies: Implications for musical structure learning

Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Cognitive Psychology (Impact Factor: 3.57). 07/2005; 50(4):354-77. DOI: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2004.09.003
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Little is known about whether infants perceive meter, the underlying temporal structure of music. We employed a habituation paradigm to examine whether 7-month-old infants could categorize rhythmic and melodic patterns on the basis of the underlying meter, which was implied from event and accent frequency of occurrence. In Experiment 1, infants discriminated duple and triple classes of rhythm on the basis of implied meter. Experiment 2 replicated this result while controlling for rhythmic grouping structure, confirming that infants perceived metrical structure despite occasional ambiguities and conflicting group structure. In Experiment 3, infants categorized melodies on the basis of contingencies between metrical position and pitch. Infants presented with metrical melodies detected reversals of pitch/meter contingencies, while infants presented with non-metrical melodies showed no preference. Results indicate that infants can infer meter from rhythmic patterns, and that they may use this metrical structure to bootstrap their knowledge acquisition in music learning.

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    • "Ontogenetically, rhythm discrimination is observed in infants as young as 2 months of age (Trehub and Hannon, 2006). Like adults, 7-months old infants can infer an underlying beat, categorizing rhythms on the basis of meter (Hannon and Johnson, 2005), and 9- month old infants can more readily notice small timing discrepancies in strongly metrical than in non-metrical rhythms (Bergeson and Trehub, 2006). "
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    • "Culture-specific knowledge sometimes interferes with the perception of novel metrical categories. Unlike adults of Balkan origin, Western adults have difficulty detecting meter-violating changes in Balkan music with a complex meter, but they detect such changes in Balkan music with a simple meter (Hannon & Trehub, 2005a). By contrast, Western 6-month-olds detect meter-violating changes in Balkan music with a simple or complex meter (Hannon & Trehub, 2005a). "
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    • "Different rhythms (e.g., tango, disco) can have the same meter, whereas different patterns of accents can make the same tone sequence have different meters. Infants discriminate a duple from a triple meter at 7 months of age even when the standard and comparison patterns have different rhythms (Hannon & Johnson, 2005). When infants the same age listen to a temporally ambiguous rhythm while being bounced either on every second or every third beat, they subsequently exhibit a preference for the same piece of music with accents on every second or every third beat, respectively (Phillips-Silver & Trainor, 2005), presumably because the bouncing was enjoyable and influenced their perception of the meter. "
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