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Discrimination of Overlapping Rhythmic Patterns

Discrimination of Overlapping Rhythmic Patterns

Session 2

Presenter Name:Melanie Holmes

School/Affiliation:University of Texas (USA)

Co-Authors:W. Jay Dowling


Previous research has demonstrated that listeners have difficulty tracking complex polyrhythms (overlapping rhythms played in different meters, resulting in complex ratios of beats). This study sought to examine whether or not listeners can even discriminate between overlapping rhythmic patterns played in the same meter. Undergraduate students (n = 195) listened to 24 paired drumming patterns played either in unison (0 ms IOI), at two-beat delay (860 ms IOI), or at a three-beat delay (1300 ms IOI) and identified whether the two rhythms were the same or different. Half of stimuli in each condition also included white noise. Participants performed above chance in all conditions; however, two-beat delays resulted in lower accuracy compared to three-beat delays and unison. There was also a small but statistically significant interaction effect; simple main effects analysis revealed an effect of white noise at the two-beat delay and unison levels, but not at the three-beat delay level. Musicians (participants with over 5 years musical experience) also had greater accuracy than non-musicians.  These results suggest that listeners can discriminate between overlapping rhythms, but this task may become more difficult as auditory conditions become more complex.

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