Syncopation affects free body-movement in musical groove

Exp Brain Res. 2017 Apr;235(4):995-1005. doi: 10.1007/s00221-016-4855-6. Epub 2016 Dec 27.


One of the most immediate and overt ways in which people respond to music is by moving their bodies to the beat. However, the extent to which the rhythmic complexity of groove-specifically its syncopation-contributes to how people spontaneously move to music is largely unexplored. Here, we measured free movements in hand and torso while participants listened to drum-breaks with various degrees of syncopation. We found that drum-breaks with medium degrees of syncopation were associated with the same amount of acceleration and synchronisation as low degrees of syncopation. Participants who enjoyed dancing made more complex movements than those who did not enjoy dancing. While for all participants hand movements accelerated more and were more complex, torso movements were more synchronised to the beat. Overall, movements were mostly synchronised to the main beat and half-beat level, depending on the body-part. We demonstrate that while people do not move or synchronise much to rhythms with high syncopation when dancing spontaneously to music, the relationship between rhythmic complexity and synchronisation is less linear than in simple finger-tapping studies.

Keywords: Groove; Movement; Music; Rhythm; Synchronisation; Syncopation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Dancing
  • Female
  • Hand / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Periodicity*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Syncope / physiopathology*
  • Torso / innervation
  • Young Adult