, Volume 163, Issue 2, pp 226-238
Date: 15 Jan 2005

The influence of metricality and modality on synchronization with a beat

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The great majority of the world’s music is metrical, i.e., has periodic structure at multiple time scales. Does the metrical structure of a non-isochronous rhythm improve synchronization with a beat compared to synchronization with an isochronous sequence at the beat period? Beat synchronization is usually associated with auditory stimuli, but are people able to extract a beat from rhythmic visual sequences with metrical structure? We addressed these questions by presenting listeners with rhythmic patterns which were either isochronous or non-isochronous in either the auditory or visual modality, and by asking them to tap to the beat, which was prescribed to occur at 800-ms intervals. For auditory patterns, we found that a strongly metrical structure did not improve overall accuracy of synchronization compared with isochronous patterns of the same beat period, though it did influence the higher-level patterning of taps. Synchronization was impaired in weakly metrical patterns in which some beats were silent. For the visual patterns, we found that participants were generally unable to synchronize to metrical non-isochronous rhythms, or to rapid isochronous rhythms. This suggests that beat perception and synchronization have a special affinity with the auditory system.