Group 2 First Project Writeup

Agreement in Musical Experts Identification of Beat Levels and their Salience

Schroeder, J., Simmons, G.

Yale University, Cognition of Musical Rhythm, Virtual Lab


1.1  Introduction

This experiment aimed to look at the salience of beat (or pulse) levels, or subdivisions, in certain songs. Salience is a measure of how perceivable each beat level is, and is made of up a number of different variables, including volume, timbre, and pitch. The purpose of studying the number of salient pulse levels, or subdivisions, was to explore whether their variance might affect the perception of a song’s groove. A pulse level is a steady beat in the music, a stream of musical events that happen in equal and predictable intervals, and has also been defined more anecdotally as a beat that you might feel compelled to tap along or move to. However, in many pieces of music, there are several possible pulse levels that one could focus on. We theorized, after reading Janata, Tomic, and Haberman (2011), that having more pulse levels accessible in the music might be connected with a higher groove rating. There are, of course, many different factors that make up the perception of groove; in this study we wanted to isolate this one factor as best as possible to see what the relationship is.

1.2  Previous Research

Our initial inspiration was drawn from the “Sensorimotor Coupling in Music and the Psychology of the Groove” study by Janata, Tomic, and Haberman (2011). Many other studies have investigated the meaning of ‘groove’ and the rhythmic properties related to it, by comparing microtiming deviations (Gouyon, Hornstrom, Madison, Ullen, 2011) or just categorizing the prominent factors “regular-irregular, groove, having swing, and flowing” (Madison, 2006).

Methods included assessing correlations between listeners’ ratings and a number of quantitative descriptors of rhythmic properties for one hundred music examples from five distinct traditional music genres (Gouyon, Hornstrom, Madison, Ullen, 2011) and in terms of differences in ratings across sixty-four music examples taken from commercially available recordings. (Madison, 2006).

Janata et al. explored the urge to move in response to music using phenomenological, behavioral, and computation techniques. Showing that groove is a psychological construct, their methods proved that the “degree of experienced groove is inversely related to experienced difficulty of bimanual sensorimotor coupling under tapping regimes with varying levels of expressive constraint and that high-groove stimuli elicit spontaneous rhythmic movements” (Haberman, Janata, Tomic, 2011).

1.3  Present Research

Does the saliency of beat level pulses affect perceived groove rating?

Our initial proposal was to have a panel of musical experts rate levels in songs for confirmation and a to be able to choose songs with a variety of beat levels before giving subjects songs to rate grooviness of, but because of difficulties in collecting data and inconsistencies between experts’ opinions, we have decided to use on the first part of our initially proposed project.


1.1  Participants

There have been 5 participants, all students from the Yale School of Music, as well as one professor. The participants were contacted by email, and were not offered any sort of compensation.

1.2  Stimuli

The experiment consisted of a Qualtrics survey, built with the Qualtrics website, and contained fourteen 30 second excerpts of songs of various style and genre, which were supplied by Petr Janata, and had been used in Janata et al. (2008). Each of the fourteen excerpts constituted a trial, and the number of beat levels present in the song, the salience of each of those beat levels, and the primary instrument that contributed to the creation of each beat level were used as variables. Salience was rated on a scale from 0 – 10, and the labelling of instrumentation was left up to the subjects. The tempos were found using the toolbox described in Tomic & Janata (2008), and a few were halved, due to the fact that they were obviously associated with a faster metric levels. One song (Step it Up Joe) was excluded due to a lack of information.

Song Artist Genre Tempo (bpm) Groove Rating
Superstition Stevie Wonder Soul 99 108.7
Yeah! Usher feat. Lil’ John & Ludacris Soul 211 (really 105.5) 89.7
Freedom of the Road Martin Sexton Folk 25 59.7
What a Wonderful World Louis Armstrong Jazz 36 66.4
Beauty of the Sea The Gabe Dixon Band Rock 63 32.1
Thugamar Fein an Samhradh Linn Barry Phillips Folk 33 29.3
The Child is Gone Fiona Apple Rock 195 (really 92.5) 62.3
Mama Cita (Instrumental) Funk Squad Soul 95 101.6
Citi Na GCumman William Coulter & Friends Folk 20 35.2
Summertime Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong Jazz 99 67.9
Goodies Ciara feat. Petey Pablo Soul 50 92.3
Step it Up Joe Mustard’s Retreat Folk
In the Mood Glenn Miller & His Orchestra Jazz 162 (really 81) 96.9
Squeeze Robert Randolph & The Family Band Rock 58 63.4


1.3  Task & Procedure

Participants were asked to complete a survey which presented 14 excerpts of songs in random order, each 30 seconds long. They were then asked to identify the salience of each beat level, up to five, with the first being the slowest, and the last being the fastest. They were instructed to only put down those that they believe existed clearly in the music, not those that they were able to find due to musical training. They were also asked to provide the instrument the most contributed to the creation of each beat level.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 2.16.08 AM

This figure shows the basic setup of each trial. An additional space was provided below in each trial for miscellaneous or explanatory comments.

1.4  Data Collection & Analysis

The data was collected through the Qualtrics website, and then exported into an excel sheet. An analysis was conducted by looking at the experts’ agreement on the number of beat levels in each song, as well as the most salient beat level of those. These measures were then used to compare to the groove ratings and tempos found in Janata et al. (2008).

4 thoughts on “Group 2 First Project Writeup

  1. Remember to add your name in square brackets at the end of each section you contribute (see Group 1’s draft as an example).

  2. “Showing that groove is a psychological construct, their methods proved…”

    1. It would be more accurate to say that they “posited” or “assumed” that…

    2. You cannot say that an experiment “proves” something. Findings are consistent (or not) with a hypothesis. Remember that it takes only one black swan to show that not all swans are white (i.e., statistical methods rely on probability; they do not establish truths).

  3. What do you mean by “but really xxx” in the tempo column?

    My guess is that the tempo you picked corresponds to a different beat level than that provided by Janata et al. What were your criteria for tempo choice?

    (I might be mistaken in my guess on what this means; in any case, this should be clarified.)

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