Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 235, Issue 4, pp 995–1005 | Cite as

Syncopation affects free body-movement in musical groove

  • Maria A. G. WitekEmail author
  • Tudor Popescu
  • Eric F. Clarke
  • Mads Hansen
  • Ivana Konvalinka
  • Morten L. Kringelbach
  • Peter Vuust
Research Article


One of the most immediate and overt ways in which people respond to music is by moving their bodies to the beat. However, the extent to which the rhythmic complexity of groove—specifically its syncopation—contributes to how people spontaneously move to music is largely unexplored. Here, we measured free movements in hand and torso while participants listened to drum-breaks with various degrees of syncopation. We found that drum-breaks with medium degrees of syncopation were associated with the same amount of acceleration and synchronisation as low degrees of syncopation. Participants who enjoyed dancing made more complex movements than those who did not enjoy dancing. While for all participants hand movements accelerated more and were more complex, torso movements were more synchronised to the beat. Overall, movements were mostly synchronised to the main beat and half-beat level, depending on the body-part. We demonstrate that while people do not move or synchronise much to rhythms with high syncopation when dancing spontaneously to music, the relationship between rhythmic complexity and synchronisation is less linear than in simple finger-tapping studies.


Music Movement Rhythm Syncopation Groove Synchronisation 



Center for Music in the Brain is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF117). IK is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research—Technology and Production Sciences. Financial support to TP was in part provided by the Zukunftskonzept at TU Dresden funded by the Exzellenzinitiative of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. MLK is supported by the ERC Consolidator Grant: CAREGIVING (n. 615539). We thank Kristian Nymoen and Birgitta Burger for help with the analysis.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

221_2016_4855_MOESM1_ESM.docx (396 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 396 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Music in the Brain, Department of Clinical MedicineAarhus University & The Royal Academy of Music Aarhus/AalborgAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Dresden Music Cognition LabDresden University of TechnologyDresdenGermany
  3. 3.Faculty of MusicUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.Department of Psychology and Behavioural SciencesAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  5. 5.Section for Cognitive Systems, Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer ScienceTechnical University of DenmarkLyngbyDenmark
  6. 6.Department of PsychiatryWarneford Hospital, University of OxfordOxfordUK

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