Resonance in the Perception of Musical Pulse

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 2:00pm - 3:30pm
CCRMA Seminar Room
Event Type: 
Hearing Seminar

Resonance in the Perception of Musical Pulse II: Developments in Childhood

Leon van Noorden, Institute for Psycho-acoustics and Electronic Music (IPEM) Ghent University

Keywords: resonance for musical pulse, synchronisation to the beat of music, children, social aspects of tapping together, arousal


Van Noorden and Moelants (1999) postulated a resonance around 2 Hz in the perceptual system for musical pulse. This could explain the range of tempi in which we can perceive a pulse or beat in music. Several other perceptual and musical phenomena can be linked to this resonance, such as the the distribution of tempi of musical pieces. In this investigation we address the question how this resonance develops in childhood. Is the resonance already present in young children. Is it weaker or stronger than in adults? To answer this question we studied how well children, in the various school grades, can synchronise to the beat of musical pieces in a range of tempi.

More than 400 children between 2.5 and 12 years tapped to the beat of children’s songs with tempi between 80 and 160 beats per minute. In order that also the youngest children would understand the instruction an avatar, that tapped to the pulse of music during a part of the stimulus presentation, was shown to the children.

In order to prevent that the children would appear alone for the experimenters, which can be a problem for the youngest children, they did the tapping in groups of 4. The seating had two conditions: seeing each other and not seeing each other. Seeing each other helped the children of 4 to 6 years to perform better on the tapping task, children of 8 to 9 performed worse, especially the boys.

It was confirmed that children of 3 and 4 years can only synchronise in a narrow range around 2 Hz. Between the ages of 4 and 7 children expand the range in which they can synchronise, from a little faster but primarily towards much slower tempi. This supports very well the resonance model for pulse perception in which the characteristic frequency, near 2 Hz, remains the same, but in which the damping of the resonance increases with age, even up to critical damping. Also the phase of tapping changes with tempo according to a resonance model. 

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