Enhanced timing abilities in percussionists generalize to rhythms without a musical beat

Front Hum Neurosci. 2014 Dec 10;8:1003. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.01003. eCollection 2014.


The ability to entrain movements to music is arguably universal, but it is unclear how specialized training may influence this. Previous research suggests that percussionists have superior temporal precision in perception and production tasks. Such superiority may be limited to temporal sequences that resemble real music or, alternatively, may generalize to musically implausible sequences. To test this, percussionists and nonpercussionists completed two tasks that used rhythmic sequences varying in musical plausibility. In the beat tapping task, participants tapped with the beat of a rhythmic sequence over 3 stages: finding the beat (as an initial sequence played), continuation of the beat (as a second sequence was introduced and played simultaneously), and switching to a second beat (the initial sequence finished, leaving only the second). The meters of the two sequences were either congruent or incongruent, as were their tempi (minimum inter-onset intervals). In the rhythm reproduction task, participants reproduced rhythms of four types, ranging from high to low musical plausibility: Metric simple rhythms induced a strong sense of the beat, metric complex rhythms induced a weaker sense of the beat, nonmetric rhythms had no beat, and jittered nonmetric rhythms also had no beat as well as low temporal predictability. For both tasks, percussionists performed more accurately than nonpercussionists. In addition, both groups were better with musically plausible than implausible conditions. Overall, the percussionists' superior abilities to entrain to, and reproduce, rhythms generalized to musically implausible sequences.

Keywords: beat perception; entrainment; expertise; rhythm perception; tapping.