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You are here: McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind > Publications > Hearing the beat: Young children’s perceptual sensitivity to beat alignment varies according to metric structure

Kathleen M Einarson and Laurel J Trainor (2016)

Hearing the beat: Young children’s perceptual sensitivity to beat alignment varies according to metric structure

Music Perception, 34(1):56-70.

Adults can extract the underlying beat from music, and entrain their movements with that beat. Although infants and children are poor at synchronizing their movements to auditory stimuli, recent findings suggest they are perceptually sensitive to the beat. We examined five-year-old children’s perceptual sensitivity to musical beat alignment (adapting the adult task of Iversen & Patel, 2008). We also examined whether sensitivity is affected by metric complexity, and whether perceptual sensitivity correlates with cognitive skills. On each trial of the complex Beat Alignment Test (cBAT) children were presented with two successive videos of puppets drumming to music with simple or complex meter. One puppet’s drumming was synchronized with the beat of the music while the other had either incorrect tempo or incorrect phase, and children were asked to select the better drummer. In two experiments, five-year-olds were able to detect beat misalignments in simple meter music significantly better than beat misalignments in complex meter music for both phase errors and tempo errors, with performance for complex meter music at chance levels. Although cBAT performance correlated with short-term memory in Experiment One, the relationship held for both simple and complex meter, so cannot explain the superior performance for culturally typical meters. 

development, meter, music, entrainment, enculturation