Embodiment, Rhythm and Cognition


 I want to begin to better approach the understanding between the kinesthetic embodiment of rhythm through the means of cognition, specifically memory.  Many tasks of experimenting with metric entrainment involve some sort of tapping, usually hand rather than foot for data-recording purposes. This phenomenon, linked to my understanding of the learning West African dance-drumming, made me question this method of learning rhythms and how our bodies react to hearing them, especially from a Western cultural background.

Part of Vijay Iyer’s work discusses some of these same tropes that I am interested in pursuing. He draws links between the claim that perhaps music is meant to be moved to with the Anlo-Ewe culture of Ghana, West Africa.

What I want to address is the fact that sometimes in West African dance-drumming (the fact that the meaning of the word in Ewe is interchangeable between dance and the music only strengthens this argument of the different cultural approach of movement pertaining to music), one starts to move in order to recall the drum language, or rhythms that dictate those movements. In designing an experiment, would subjects be able to better remember rhythms depending on whether they learned movements alongside those same rhythms?

It is unusual in Western culture to learn rhythms based on movement, but what if we used a set of movements to help remember a rhythm, or even lyrics? We learn dance from melodies or in a counting manner (or learn concepts set to music), and I want to explore the other direction of that correlation; using movement to help trigger rhythmic recall. Subjects (without certain experience, dance, etc) would be given certain patterns to learn, accompanied by movements or alone- just the movements too- and then try to reproduce those rhythms, being allowed to move along with their attempts or not. Does this movement have to be synchronized with the beats, or dance at all? Do certain parts of the body elicit better ability of memorization? Would this method work best with polyrhythms, and only serve to confuse subjects struggling to learn movements along with a simple pattern?

Dalcroze eurhythmics is an example of possible applications of addressing these questions. While it does not answer any of them specifically, this method of teaching music to students using embodiment underlines the importance of kinesthetic movement reinforcing neural circuits involving memory, and gives us only more reason to want to fully understand its effectiveness. 


2 thoughts on “Embodiment, Rhythm and Cognition

  1. This topic is starting to take shape. Exciting!
    A few comments, in no particular order:
    1. I would be careful with general statements about Western culture. Biases are dangerous in whatever direction they go! For the moment, you might temper these by using expressions such as “it would seem that” or “it is often assumed that”, etc.
    2. Dalcroze is not a “possible application of addressing these questions” but an example of a pedagogical approach that incorporates movement in the learning/teaching of rhythmic patterns. A possible application of findings that would result from addressing these questions might be a pedagogical approach.
    3. There are different avenues of investigation for your topic, and I am note sure which will be more productive in the short term. I think it would be good for you to do a little bit of investigation in other pedagogical approaches (largely conceived) that use movements (e.g., of hands or feet, or other) to teach rhythmic performance, with the possible goal of creating a compendium of typical movements used to that effect and rhythms taught with the help of these strategies. Another avenue of investigation is to get a stronger grasp on the concept of embodied cognition by reviewing some of the most current literature on this topic (possible a survey and a couple landmark studies). Yet another avenue is that of developmental studies about rhythmic performance (or more generally, motor planning related to musical performance). There might be others, but those are the ones that come to mind right away.

    Keep me posted on new developments!

  2. Thank you for these comments! I really appreciated them, and took the following into account when compiling my preliminary annotated bibliography;
    1. That is very true about too sweeping of comments being false due to their generality- I will definitely make sure I keep this in mind.
    2. Would not results from students using the Dalcroze method hypothetically support/refute my question?
    3. I love the idea of a compendium of typical movements!

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