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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    • "These processes seem to develop at different ages, suggesting a different degree of biological innateness and musical enculturation. Even small infants are able to detect changes in pitch (Chang and Trehub 1977; Trehub et al. 1999) and rhythm and meter (Hannon and Johnson 2005; Winkler et al. 2009) in melodies and also move spontaneously to the rhythm of music (Zentner and Eerola 2010). Infants are, however, equally sensitive to both out-of-key and within-key changes in melodies, whereas children and adults are better at detecting out-of-key changes (Corrigall and Trainor 2010; Trainor and Trehub 1992), indicating that tonality perception develops later. "
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