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Rhythm perception

Humans (and some other animals*) have an innate sense of 'rhythm', i.e. the ability to detect and react with 'beats' in musical compositions. Professional drummers and percussionists can 'beat time' with accuracies of just a few milliseconds per beat (ref. PLOS biology and Psychonomic Bulletin & Review volume 20, pp. 403–452)

Non-musicians can also easily spot so-called 'swing' beats in music. Many jazz recordings use 'swing' as a means to introduce an attractive danceable 'groove' to the music (see 'Groove' section below)

In 'swing', one or two beats in each bar are deliberately delayed - but only by a few thousandths of a second. Nevertheless almost everyone can detect the difference between a 'swing' beat and a 'straight' beat. There is quite a body of research on how 'swing' is accomplished (example ref. ) but no agreed explanation as to how people can so easily detect it.

Implications are that the brain has an internal 'clock' (running at accuracies down to milliseconds) against which a performer can reference his/her motor outputs.

There are two main theories of how this might be happening. One is that the beats can be judged and reacted-to in an 'absolute' way (with reference to the mental clock) - the other is that the beats are judged 'relatively' to the previous beats (involving a 'memory' of the timings).

Experiments and observations of brain-damaged patients have located (at least some of) the brain areas where the 'clock' appears to be located.

There is reasonable consensus that the cerebellum is involved in absolute timing mechanisms, and basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuits are involved in relative timing mechanisms.

Source : Neural Mechanisms of Rhythm Perception: Present Findings and Future Directions

But the underlying biological mechanisms which might be able to regulate a 'clock' at such accuracies are completely unknown.

There is also no explanation from an evolutionary standpoint as to why this highly accurate timing system might have evolved.

Longer periods (minutes, hours, days, weeks etc etc) of humans' time perception, which is also unexplained (and which may or may not be related to the beat perception clock) can be found here : Time Awarenessplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigTime Awareness

"Anticipating events that will happen in the future is among the most important functions the brain performs. Indeed, it has been increasingly stressed that learning and memory are prospective brain functions; that is, they are only adaptive to the extent that they help animals anticipate and prepare for the future (Dudai and Carruthers, 2005; Schacter and Addis, 2007). To anticipate when events will happen, the brain has evolved mechanisms to tell time across a wide range of te…

'Groove' fMRI studies

The Institut de Neurosciences des Systèmes (INS) - a multidisciplinary research institute at Inserm and Aix-Marseille University, France, has published details of its 2023 fMRI work examining possible reasons why people relate strongly to so-called 'groove' beats in music. Particularly with regard to the urge to dance.

[…] during auditory perception, the motor system encodes temporal predictions information and can optimize auditory processing. Recently, a Bayesian model of groove has been proposed, in which the experience of groove is related to predictive timing and more precisely correlates with the precision-weighted temporal prediction error computation during the processing of musical rhythms .
However, the neurophysiology of groove is still unclear."

Source : Neural dynamics of predictive timing and motor engagement in music listeningScienceAdvances, Vol. 10, No. 10

*Note : Several other animal species apparently respond to musical rhythms. A 2022 study found that rats appear to prefer musical beats at around 120 to 140 bpm (beats per minute). See : Science Advances, Vol. 8, No. 45

A 2023 study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that pairs of Gibbons often synchronise their 'songs' with each other - which implies they have a strong sense of musical rhythm. source


Also see Musical Appreciationplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigMusical appreciation

Music psychologists are trying to understand the processes that support musical behaviours - including perception, comprehension, memory, attention, emotional effects, and performance.

"Music is more mysterious than language because its
, Core Clockplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigCore Clock

In humans, mammals, fish, insects, and very many other organisms, the 'Core Clock' which regulates variations in body functions is set to (approximately) 24 hours. This is the so-called Circadian Rhythm. - which in many organisms, is synchronised via daylight.
and Musical pitch perceptionplugin-autotooltip__plain plugin-autotooltip_bigMusical pitch perception

"Pitch is a perceptual property of sounds that allows their ordering on a frequency-related scale, or more commonly, pitch is the quality that makes it possible to judge sounds as 'higher' and 'lower' in the sense associated with musical melodies. Pitch can be determined only in sounds that have a frequency that is clear and stable enough to distinguish from noise."

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