by Mike Jin
In Western music, simple meters predominate, but in other parts of the world such as countries in the Balkan Peninsula, more complex meters are used in traditional song and dance music. A natural question to raise, then, is whether identifying, understanding, or producing complex meters is somehow different from the same tasks for simple meters. This paper proposes an experiment designed to build on previous findings by investigating whether trained familiarity with complex meters with 3:2 pulse durational ratios is meter-specific. The results would further understanding of human cognition of complex versus simple meters by shedding light on possible neurological processes involved.
If there exists a difference in the abilities of North American and Balkan adults in synchronizing to uncommon nonisochronous sequences, it would imply broad coverage for perception of 3:2 durational ratio sequences. I.e., familiarity with a few common complex meters enables people to retain an inborn ability to perceive complex meters that applies to perceiving any nonisochronous pulse sequence with 3:2 durational ratios, even if it is unfamiliar. This would support the theory that the same mechanisms are responsible for enabling perception of simple and complex rhythmic sequences. On the other hand, if no difference is found (Balkan adults exhibit difficulties in synchronizing and continuing tapping to these uncommon sequences just as North American adults will), then it would imply that there does exist some predisposition toward perceiving simple isochronous sequences, in the sense that the ability to entrain to sequences with 3:2 durational ratios is case-specific, whereas experience with simple meters enables entrainment to any sequence with 2:1 durational ratios regardless of familiarity with that particular sequence.
The experiment would be conducted on two groups of subjects: North American adults aged 18-40 with 3 years or less of musical training and no exposure to complex meter music, and Balkan adults aged 18-40 with at least 3 years of previous experience in traditional music or dance involving complex meters. Three groups of 8 stimuli would be created for sets of 4, 5, and 6 nonisochronous beat sequences with durations in 3:2 ratios. Both subject groups would be asked to perform synchronization and continuation tapping to stimuli from all three groups, and sequences with the same number of beats would be given as a group. The pulses at the beat level will be amplified slightly, and the pulses corresponding to the start of each beat sequence will be amplified still more, so that the salience of pulses falls into 3 detectable levels. Subjects will be told to tap to the most salient pulse they hear, and they will hear the pattern play for 4 cycles before beginning tapping. Following synchronization with the pulse for 4 cycles, subjects will continue tapping for 4 cycles when the pulse stimulus is turned off. Tapping accuracy and precision for North American adults and Balkan adults will be compared within each beat number group (i.e. 4-beat stimuli, 5-beat stimuli, etc.) to determine whether they demonstrate a difference in ability to produce the complex meter patterns.
Snyder, Joel S. et al. 2006. “Synchronization and Continuation Tapping to Complex Meters.” Music Perception 24 (2): 135-146.
North American adults were asked to tap to two 7/8 Balkan drum patterns (LSS and SSL organization) with accompanying music. The drum pattern was then turned off and they were asked to continue tapping along to either silence or only the melody. The results showed that all tapping was between the actual ratio of 3:2 and the binary 2:1 ratio, but the ratio was stretched more toward binary ratios in the absence of melody.
Hannon, E.E. 2004. “Metrical Categories in Infancy and Adulthood.” Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Parts 1 and 2.
North American adults show a bias toward perceiving and producing rhythms with simple ratios, but infants do not show this bias. This suggests that there exists no intrinsic human preference for simple meters.