Archive | Music Perception

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I am fascinated by the perceptual and cognitive components of our musical experience. I am amazed at our ability to parse, organize and transform a stream of sonic information into rhythms, pitches, melodies, chords, instruments, timbres, dynamics and styles. I seek to understand more about these musically-oriented perceptual and cognitive mechanisms in order to explore new approaches to composition, analysis and pedagogy. I am particularly interested in temporal and rhythmic perception, musical (dis)continuity judgments and the way that we make auditory and musical (dis)similarity comparisons. Much of my research in this field is accomplished in collaboration with Michael Kubovy and the Kubovy Perception Lab at U.Va.

Systematic Variation in Rhythm Production as Tempo Changes

Barton, S., Getz, L., & Kubovy, M. (2017). Systematic Variation in Rhythm Production as Tempo Changes. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 34(3), 303-312.

We investigated the effect of tempo on the production of the syncopated 3-2 son clave rhythm. We recorded eleven experienced percussionists performing the clave pattern at tempi ranging from 70 bpm to 210 bpm. As tempo increased, percussionists shortened the longest intervals and lengthened the shortest interval towards an intermediate interval that is located in the first and second positions in the pattern. This intermediate interval was stable across tempi. Contrary to prior studies, we found that the complexity of interval ratios had little effect on production accuracy or stability and the “short” interval in the pattern was not particularly stable. These results suggest that as tempo is varied, (1) experienced musicians systematically distort rhythmic intervals, (2) rhythmic configuration, and not just the complexity of interval ratios, affects the production of rhythmic intervals, and (3) the distinction between long and short intervals is context-dependent.


Music Perception

The specificity of expertise: For whom is the clave pattern the “key” to salsa music?

L. Getz, S. Barton, M. Kubovy (2014). Acta Psychologica; Volume 152, October 2014.

Each Latin salsa music style is associated with a characteristic clave pattern that constitutes an essential structure for performers. In this article we asked what types of expertise are needed to detect the correct salsa–clave pairing. Using two clave patterns (the 3–2 and 2–3 son clave) and three manipulated alternatives, we asked listeners to choose the correct clave pattern for a variety of bombacalypsomambo and merengueexcerpts. The results of Studies 1 and 2 show that listeners unfamiliar with salsa were unable to detect the correct salsa–clave pairing. Listeners who had some music training or were familiar with salsa detected the need for syncopation but not the specific pairing. Only musicians well-acquainted with salsa correctly detected the salsa–clave pairing. Studies 3 and 4 showed that incorrect choices were not due to an inability to distinguish between the alternatives: both adults and five-year-olds could easily tell apart the various patterns we used. We conclude that the distinction between the 2–3 and 3–2 claves is not inherent in the music itself, but rather is a convention to be learned through exposure and training. We discuss the results using an analogy to language learning. link to paper


Understanding Musical (dis)continuity

S. Barton (2012).  Dissertation.  Published by ProQuest.


While our experience of musical (dis)continuity is often powerful and clear, articulating the relations that inspire such percepts is not always easy. Part of the reason for this is that our experience of musical (dis)continuity is influenced by a number of physical, cognitive and perceptual factors, and thus is complex. I will therefore explore (dis)continuity’s character by applying ideas from psychology, music theory, algorithmic information theory, and statistics to a variety of musical compositions, including my own. These explorations will describe (dis)continuity as primarily dependent on five key elements: how we bring entities into relations, holistic associations, perceived (dis)similarity of intra- and inter-entity attributes and relational structures (which we can describe in terms of type and degree); hierarchical organization; and context.  These various elements work in isolation and in combination depending on the particular musical situation. Because (dis)continuity is multi-faceted in this way, no singular approach will illuminate the full extent of its richness and complexity. Instead, we must be able to approach (dis)continuity from a number of different perspectives; the one that we choose depends on the specific musical scenario. I will therefore incorporate ideas from the aforementioned disciplines, including structure mapping, transformational distance, and parametric dimensions, to describe, represent and eventually quantify the nature of these characteristics and how they interact to produce (dis)continuity percepts. Such a varied set of tools, which can be used in isolation or in combination, will allow us to describe (dis)continuity in a wide variety of musical styles.  This may prove useful not only in identifying commonalities between stylistically diverse musics but also in providing an analytic approach to musics that are resistant to traditional tools. Such flexible, yet rigorous, approach will allow us to illuminate the nature of (dis)continuous relations so that we can analyze and compose (dis)continuous music more thoughtfully. link to paper