Previous research has shown that musical beat perception is a surprisingly complex phenomenon involving widespread neural coordination across higher-order sensory, motor and cognitive areas. However, the question of how low-level auditory processing must necessarily shape these dynamics, and therefore perception, is not well understood. Here, we present evidence that the auditory cortical representation of music, even in the absence of motor or top-down activations, already favours the beat that will be perceived. Extracellular firing rates in the rat auditory cortex were recorded in response to 20 musical excerpts diverse in tempo and genre, for which musical beat perception had been characterized by the tapping behaviour of 40 human listeners. We found that firing rates in the rat auditory cortex were on average higher on the beat than off the beat. This 'neural emphasis' distinguished the beat that was perceived from other possible interpretations of the beat, was predictive of the degree of tapping consensus across human listeners, and was accounted for by a spectrotemporal receptive field model. These findings strongly suggest that the 'bottom-up' processing of music performed by the auditory system predisposes the timing and clarity of the perceived musical beat.
Keywords: auditory cortex; beat perception; electrophysiology; entrainment; rhythm; temporal processing.
© 2020 The Authors.