Award Date

August 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Committee Member

Joel S. Snyder

Second Committee Member

Erin E. Hannon

Third Committee Member

Diego Vega

Fourth Committee Member

David E. Copeland

Number of Pages



When listening to music, humans perceive underlying temporal regularities. The most perceptually salient of these is the beat, what listeners would tap or clap to when engaging with music, and what listeners use to anchor the events in the musical surface to a temporal framework. However, we do not know if people perceive those beats in hierarchically ordered relationships, with some beats heard as stronger and others as weaker, as proposed by musical theory. These hierarchical relationships would theoretically be advantageous in orienting attention to particular locations in musical time, and facilitate synchronizing musical behavior such as performing or dancing. In two experiments, I investigated if listeners perceive multiple levels of beats structured hierarchically, and if they use that information to decide if metrically-structured metronomes match or mismatch music. In Experiment 1, musicians and non-musicians alike gave higher ratings of fit to metronomes that matched musical excerpts at two levels of a hierarchy over those that matched at only one or no levels. In Experiment 2, I had musicians and non-musicians rate the fit of auditory and visual metronomes to music, and administered tests of intelligence and musical aptitude to determine if these factors impacted metrical perception. Musicians and non-musicians rated visual metronomes similarly to auditory metronomes, once again giving highest ratings of fit to fully-metrically-matching metronomes over those that matched at one or no levels. Musical aptitude and intelligence did not relate to meter perception in any systematic way. With musicians and non-musicians alike able to match metronomes to music on two metrical levels, this suggests that perceiving a hierarchical structure of beats may be a natural way in which listeners organize their perception of time and make sense of the musical events they hear.


auditory cognition; multimodal perception; musical meter; music cognition; perception


Cognitive Psychology | Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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