Pulse Perception

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Pulse perception is the cognitive formation of a regular underlying rhythm. In Western music this is traditionally modeled using a meter system, with measures denoting a larger division of rhythm, which each contain a certain number of beats. According to Thaut, however, pulse recognition is not based on “counting duration measurements”, but rather depends on a more complicated neuronal mechanism. The brain is extremely sensitive to fluctuations in sound amplitude, and different circuits in the brain are triggered by different frequencies or amplitude fluctuation. The combination of the activation of these different circuits creates a perception of pulse.

(Created by Mike Jin) Richard Parncutt wrote an influential paper on pulse perception entitled “A Perceptual Model of Pulse Salience and Metrical Accent in Musical Rhythm,” in which he described pulse perception as essentially pattern recognition. According to Parncutt, a given rhythm will have several layers of pulse, and the pulse with the highest pulse salience becomes the tactus.

(Edited by Kevin Lai, 2/7/10)

“Pulses serve as isochronous, equidistant time points generated by interval or period durations.” (Thaut 2008, pg. 7)

Povel (1981) and Povel & Essen (1985), based on prior work by Fraisse, proposed a model of pulse perception in two parts:

  1. Incoming sound patterns are divided into beats based on accents that recur periodically. These accents set an “internal clock.”
  2. Individual sound events in the pattern are related to small integer subdivisions of the beats, often with two or three events per beat. Sound events can also be related to each other by the same small ratios. (Clarke 1999, p. 483)

(Edited by Jonathan Liang, 2/1/10)