Selective neuronal entrainment to the beat and meter embedded in a musical rhythm

J Neurosci. 2012 Dec 5;32(49):17572-81. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3203-12.2012.


Fundamental to the experience of music, beat and meter perception refers to the perception of periodicities while listening to music occurring within the frequency range of musical tempo. Here, we explored the spontaneous building of beat and meter hypothesized to emerge from the selective entrainment of neuronal populations at beat and meter frequencies. The electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded while human participants listened to rhythms consisting of short sounds alternating with silences to induce a spontaneous perception of beat and meter. We found that the rhythmic stimuli elicited multiple steady state-evoked potentials (SS-EPs) observed in the EEG spectrum at frequencies corresponding to the rhythmic pattern envelope. Most importantly, the amplitude of the SS-EPs obtained at beat and meter frequencies were selectively enhanced even though the acoustic energy was not necessarily predominant at these frequencies. Furthermore, accelerating the tempo of the rhythmic stimuli so as to move away from the range of frequencies at which beats are usually perceived impaired the selective enhancement of SS-EPs at these frequencies. The observation that beat- and meter-related SS-EPs are selectively enhanced at frequencies compatible with beat and meter perception indicates that these responses do not merely reflect the physical structure of the sound envelope but, instead, reflect the spontaneous emergence of an internal representation of beat, possibly through a mechanism of selective neuronal entrainment within a resonance frequency range. Taken together, these results suggest that musical rhythms constitute a unique context to gain insight on general mechanisms of entrainment, from the neuronal level to individual level.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Acoustic Stimulation / psychology
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Electroencephalography / psychology
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology