Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 81, Issue 6, pp 2088–2101 | Cite as

A comparison of methods for investigating the perceptual center of musical sounds

  • Justin LondonEmail author
  • Kristian Nymoen
  • Martin Torvik Langerød
  • Marc Richard Thompson
  • David Loberg Code
  • Anne Danielsen


In speech and music, the acoustic and perceptual onset(s) of a sound are usually not congruent with its perceived temporal location. Rather, these "P-centers" are heard some milliseconds after the acoustic onset, and a variety of techniques have been used in speech and music research to find them. Here we report on a comparative study that uses various forms of the method of adjustment (aligning a click or filtered noise in-phase or anti-phase to a repeated target sound), as well as tapping in synchrony with a repeated target sound. The advantages and disadvantages of each method and probe type are discussed, and then all methods are tested using a set of musical instrument sounds that systematically vary in terms of onset/rise time (fast vs. slow), duration (short vs. long), and center frequency (high vs. low). For each method, the dependent variables were (a) the mean P-center location found for each stimulus type, and (b) the variability of the mean P-center location found for each stimulus type. Interactions between methods and stimulus categories were also assessed. We show that (a) in-phase and anti-phase methods of adjustment produce nearly identical results, (b) tapping vs. click alignment can provide different yet useful information regarding P-center locations, (c) the method of adjustment is sensitive to different sounds in terms of variability while tapping is not, and (d) using filtered noise as an alignment probe yields consistently earlier probe-onset locations in comparison to using a click as a probe.


Rhythm P-center Tapping task Alignment task Negative mean asynchrony Microtiming 

APP Keywords

Music cognition Sound recognition Psychoacoustics Temporal processing 



We want to thank Elise Måsvær for assistance with data collection to Experiment 2. This work was partially supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence scheme, project number 262762, and the TIME project, grant number 249817.

Open practices statement

None of the data or materials for the experiments reported here are available, and none of the experiments was preregistered.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justin London
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kristian Nymoen
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Martin Torvik Langerød
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marc Richard Thompson
    • 5
  • David Loberg Code
    • 6
  • Anne Danielsen
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Carleton CollegeNorthfieldUSA
  2. 2.RITMO Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Rhythm, Time, and MotionUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of MusicologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  4. 4.Department of InformaticsUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  5. 5.Department of MusicUniversity of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland
  6. 6.School of MusicWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA

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