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Limits of rhythm perception

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To what extent are listeners sensitive to the time intervals separating non-consecutive events in sound sequences? The subjects of Experiment 1 were presented with sequences of 20 identical tones in which the 10 odd-numbered tones or the 10 even-numbered tones made up an isochronous sub-sequence (with a periodicity of 0.5-1 s) whereas the other tones, acting as distractors, occurred at random moments. Such sequences appeared to be very difficult to discriminate from sequences without any timing regularity, which revealed a lack of perceptual sensitivity to their "second-order" intervals. Experiment 2 employed repetitive sequences in which the first-order intervals (separating consecutive tones) took two possible values, forming a ratio that subjects had to classify as larger or smaller than 2. The results of this experiment suggest that subjects were able to make use of second-order intervals in their task, but mainly due to the predictable nature of the sequences; the relative positions of subjective accents (Povel & Essens, 1985) had no significant effect on performance. It is concluded that the perception of subtle timing details in "ordinary" music may rest on nothing more than a sensitivity to the relations between first-order intervals (within a given auditory stream).

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Université Victor Segalen and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Bordeaux, France

Publication date: April 1, 2002


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