Production and perception of musical rhythm by musicians and music novices

Gillian C. Anderson, The College of Wooster


Effects of musical experience on rhythmic variability of composed tunes, and whether tune recognition is affected by musical experience and rhythmic variability were investigated. In the first experiment, rhythmic variability of tunes composed by 19 musician and 20 nonmusician college students was compared using the Normalized Pairwise Variability Index (nPVI). These participants completed a questionnaire about musical experience and were categorized as either musicians or novices. Next, they composed short tunes using only two keys on a piano keyboard, and these were recorded on a computer using Anvil Studio software. Results of nPVI analysis suggest that musicians compose tunes with higher rhythmic variability (p = 0.126), and that more extensive musical experience and more years of formal training correlated with rhythmic variability (p = 0.126 and 0.171). In a second experiment, tune recognition was tested in 27 musicians and 30 non-musicians, using the most and least rhythmically variable tunes composed in the first experiment. Direct RT software randomly presented tunes in an exposure and a recognition phase. Recognition performance was not significantly different in musicians and novices (p = 0.491), but as a whole, listeners recognized tunes of novice composers more readily than tunes composed by musicians (p = 0.081). There was no significant interaction between musical experience of the composer and listener (p = 0.304). Important relationships may exist between musical experience, rhythmic variability and tune recognition, although these experiments did not reveal statistically significant differences. Further research involving a larger sample and more refined testing is needed.