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: 5.06). 07/2005; 50(4):354-77. DOI: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2004.09.003
Source: PubMed


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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    • "The ability to keep a beat lies at the heart of music-making. A typically-developing child can maintain a steady beat as young as four years old[1], and even infants can “feel the beat”, demonstrating sensitivity to metrical structure well before they are able to synchronize to it themselves[2,3]. Though the emergence and mastery of rhythm skills can continue through to adulthood, rhythmic competence can depend greatly on the extent of engagement with music [4-7]. "
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    PLoS ONE 10/2013; 8(10):e77250. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0077250 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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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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    ABSTRACT: We examined the influence of incidental exposure to varied metrical patterns from different musical cultures on the perception of complex metrical structures from an unfamiliar musical culture. Adults who were familiar with Western music only (i.e., simple meters) and those who also had limited familiarity with non-Western music were tested on their perception of metrical organization in unfamiliar (Turkish) music with simple and complex meters. Adults who were familiar with Western music detected meter-violating changes in Turkish music with simple meter but not in Turkish music with complex meter. Adults with some exposure to non-Western music that was unmetered or metrically complex detected meter-violating changes in Turkish music with both simple and complex meters, but they performed better on patterns with a simple meter. The implication is that familiarity with varied metrical structures, including those with a non-isochronous tactus, enhances sensitivity to the metrical organization of unfamiliar music.
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