Hierarchical Beat Perception Develops Throughout Childhood and Adolescence and is Enhanced in those with Musical Training

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Journal of Experimental Psychology: General

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Most music is temporally organized within a metrical hierarchy, having nested periodic patterns that give rise to the experience of stronger (downbeat) and weaker (upbeat) events. Musical meter presumably makes it possible to dance, sing, and play instruments in synchrony with others. It is nevertheless unclear whether or not listeners perceive multiple levels of periodicity simultaneously, and if they do, when and how they learn to do this. We tested children, adolescents, and musically trained and untrained adults with a new meter perception task. We presented excerpts of human-performed music paired with metronomes that matched or mismatched the metrical structure of the music at 2 hierarchical levels (beat and measure), and asked listeners to provide a rating of fit of metronome and music. Fit ratings suggested that adults with and without musical training were sensitive to both levels of meter simultaneously, but ratings were more strongly influenced by beat-level than by measure-level synchrony. Sensitivity to two simultaneous levels of meter was not evident in children or adolescents. Sensitivity to the beat alone was apparent in the youngest children and increased with age, whereas sensitivity to the measure alone was not present in younger children (5- to 8-year-olds). These findings suggest a prolonged period of development and refinement of hierarchical beat perception and surprisingly weak overall ability to attend to 2 beat levels at the same time across all ages.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences



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