Welcome to “Cognition of Musical Rhythm”!

Where does the power of music to “move” us come from? Is “feeling the beat” a uniquely human ability? Do athletes who listen to music while training perform better? Does background music influence our shopping behavior? Why has music so often been a part of military actions? Can rhythm be used as a healing tool?

This course is situated at the interface of music psychology and music theory and integrates concepts and methods from both fields. In this course, you will gain critical understanding of the issues at stake in the study of musical rhythm and acquire a set of skills that will enable you to formulate research questions, conduct a literature review, and design and conduct an online experiment aimed at exploring an aspect of musical rhythm that is relevant to your everyday life. To reach this goal, we will explore music from different historical periods and styles, read landmark studies from both music theory and music psychology, and dig into the many recent empirical studies that deal with rhythm production, perception, and cognition.

Can the conceptual and methodological gap between music theory and music psychology be fruitfully bridged? Theories of musical rhythm have a long history, from Aristoxenus and Plato in the Greek Antiquity to Mathis Lussy and Hugo Riemann in the 19th century. These theories range from mostly pedagogical works aimed at musical practitioners of a given style to speculative theories that attempt to unveil underlying generative principles at work in the “musical mind” of composers as represented by specific musical pieces. In contrast, the core of empirical research dealing with rhythm has been focused on identifying “universal” laws of rhythmic perception and production, sometimes even bringing into question the validity of some musical concepts and tools. Nevertheless, the persistence of musical practices that challenge experimental findings suggests that music psychological research might benefit from a richer and more flexible understanding of the music-temporal experience, especially given the relative simplicity of the stimuli used in the lab when compared to actual music and the heavy bias toward musical materials from Western European cultures. Conversely, findings on the cognitive mechanisms that fuel rhythmic experience can enrich our understanding of the effect of music on our body and mind.