A bodily hierarchy of rhythm performance – effects of musicianship

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Entraining to a musical beat by means of body movement is a way to reinforce the metrical model predicted by the brain. These body movements assist in maintaining and exercising the underlying beat in a non-isochronous sequence. As such, they play a facilitatory role, creating a figure/ground relationship between the auditory rhythms and the metric body movements – a relationship between rhythm and meter also found in music theory. Moving to the beat not only takes place when we listen to music, but also when we produce it. Performing figure and ground simultaneously is a complicated action that involves coordination of different limbs. In the current study, we studied the dynamically changing roles of voice, hands and feet during simultaneous performance of rhythm and beat. 60 right-handed professional musicians, amateur-musicians and non-musicians each performed three short rhythms and their underlying beat in twelve different combinations of hands, feet and voice. Results suggested the existence of a bodily hierarchy with the levels: (5) voice --> (4) right hand --> (3) left hand --> (2) right foot --> (1) left foot, indicating that participants preferred to perform the rhythm using a higher order limb than the limb keeping the beat. Importantly, the preferred roles of the limbs in the bodily hierarchy differed according to combination: While it was easier for them to use a hand to keep the beat while vocalizing a rhythm than doing the opposite, participants preferred to use a hand for performing the rhythm when combining it with a foot, which in that case had to stamp the beat. While performance generally increased with expertise, the hierarchical pattern was consistent in all three expertise groups. However, musicians were less affected by performing against the hierarchy than non-musicians. The notion of a bodily rhythm/meter hierarchy between voice, hands and feet raises questions about our understanding of the interaction and lateralization of rhythm and meter in the brain. It shows that the conduct-support role of the different limbs is key in the coordination between voice and body; performance level of the same limb combination can differ considerably, depending on which limb takes the supporting role of the meter and the conducting role of the rhythm. Furthermore, results show how perception influences action by indicating that to musicians, the robustness of their metric prediction model transforms the task of combining rhythm and meter into one unified action where the meter is the implied ground of the rhythmic figure. To the non-musicians with less robust prediction models, the figure/ground relationship between the rhythm and its metrical model is not as well-established, making it a harder task of coordinating two equal components.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventRhythm Production and Perception Workshop 2021 - RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion, Oslo, Norway
Duration: 22 Jun 202125 Jun 2021


WorkshopRhythm Production and Perception Workshop 2021
LocationRITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion
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