Why do some people have problems "feeling the beat"? Here we investigate participants with congenital impairments in musical rhythm perception and production. A web-based version of the Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia was used to screen for difficulties with rhythmic processing in a large sample and we identified three "dysrhythmic" individuals who scored below cut-off for the rhythm subtest, but not the pitch-based subtests. Follow-up testing in the laboratory was conducted to characterize the nature of both rhythm perception and production deficits in these dysrhythmic individuals. We found that they differed from control participants when required to synchronize their tapping to an external stimulus with a metrical pulse, but not when required to tap spontaneously (with no external stimulus) or to tap in time to an isochronous stimulus. Dysrhythmics exhibited a general tendency to tap at half the expected tempo when asked to synchronize to the beat of strongly metrical rhythms. These results suggest that the individuals studied here did not have motor production problems, but suffer from a selective rhythm perception deficit that influences the ability to entrain to metrical rhythms.
Keywords: amusia; beat; meter; motor timing; rhythm.