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Notes on J. Bispham's (2006) "Rhythm in Music..." (Music Perception 24/2)

Notes on

Bispham, John. “Rhythm in Music: What is it? Who has it? And Why?” In Music Perception, Volume 24, Issue 2, December 2006, pp. 125–134. 

homologous — trait (e.g. physiology, capacity, behavior, tendency/inhibition, etc.) shared due to common ancestry

homoplaisic — trait (e.g. physiology, capacity, behavior, tendency/inhibition, etc.) shared due to common selection pressures.

Many have argued that MRB is adaption due to mother-infant interaction, coalition signaling, muscular bonding … reinforced through human-infant altriciality, female exogamy, sociality.

MRB (Musical Rhythmic Behavior)  = a “constellation of concurrently operating, hierarchically organized, subskills including 

- general timing abilities,

- smooth and ballistic movement (periodic and non-periodic), 

- the perception of pulse, 

- a coupling of action and perception, and 

- error correction mechanisms.”


ballistic movement — movement involving muscular initiation without necessary muscular continuity, i.e. bouncing, slapping, flinging, throwing, jumping (as opposed to putting, pressing, carrying, elevating, depressing, etc.) 

1. Periodic Production.

Wallin (2000) distinguishes metric, alternating movement (in many animals) from similar movement in humans, in that the latter can be entrained to an external stimulus. However, (according to Bipsham), not all rhythmic activity is metric/alternating. 

2. Perception

Monkeys distinguish human languages based on attention to rhythm, as do infants younger than 5 months. (Infants older than 5 months distinguish languages within rhythmic classes, based on narrower criteria.) 

3. Temporal Structuring

Animal communication in general is organized according to impulses for regulation of the behavior of others…conditioning is enough to predispose a signal that would affect another animal’s behavior. Conditioning endows signals with predictability. What appears to be temporal patterning may be just be redundancy (repeating a signal as the state of a condition persists), or “the epiphenomenal outcome of conflicting signaling functions.”

Rhesus screams’ timbres (and pitches?) are minimally distinct from individual to individual, but their rhythms must be distinct because monkeys can distinguish one another regardless…

Ape drumming is more a factor of phylogenetic proximinity and homologies related to motor skills.

Is “song” analagous between humans and other species?

McDermott and Hauser (2005) — no, animal song occurs under restricted conditions, is functional, sexual dimorphism.

Fitch (2006): contrasting pure enjoyment with biological function is a conflation of two levels, “none of the arguments provide compelling grounds for rejecting the traditional analogy between human and animal song.”


“…range of behaviors [in song] raise important and interesting issues regarding possible analogies to 

- vocal learning, 

- modes of perceiving temporally structured events and 

- sequecing of complex motor actions.”

 (not only contextually distinct, but distinct in mechanism)

(1) entraining mechanisms, and (2) interpersonal interaction are absent.

4. Ecological engagement

“internal oscillatory mechanisms shared between different domains of human behavior and cognition strongly suggest that entrainment in music constitutes an evolutionary exaption of more generally functional mechanisms for future-directed attending to structured events” 


— “the creation of a mutually manifest interactive framework for communication based upon a sustained ‘musical’ pulse

— period correction mechanisms

— coupling action with perception”

  … are all aspects of MRB that are not accounted for in exaption model above.


5.  Temporally structured duetting interactions

6 % of bird species coordinate duets, but could be “synchronous commencing of fixed action patterns”…rather than entrainment

Geisman (2000): Gibbons produce “rigid, precisely timed, complex…well-patterned duets”

but (Bipsham) “no evidence of a pulsed framework being employed.” 

 (nevertheless, excitation is related to the quantity of sound and interaction, and the activity is therefore interactive… —> strong analogy to MRB.) 

6. Synchronous chorusing

Synchrony derives from advanced signalling or “phase correction” (rather than period correction).

— participants desiring to signal first

— cooperative effort to maximize output

— predator avoidance

7. Nonmusical human interaction

personal entrainment is manifest in all human interactions, ranging from 

(a) loose, subconscious use of pulse as a framework for interpersonal/turn-taking interactions, to

(b) strict adherance to pulse (groove) in group behavior and synchronicity of output where participants are aware of the pulse ramework and desire to maintain a degree of temporal stability and group-coordination (e.g., music and dance). 

But “(a) precedes (b) ontongenetically (and possibly phylogenetically) and is … less complex…[MRB] cannot be explained as having evolved with relation exclusively to nonmusical behaviors.


ontogenesis — progressions of development occurring within a single organism

phylogenesis — progressions of development occuring in the course of species evolution


MUSICAL RHYTHMIC BEHAVIOR What is human-specific and music-specific?

Musical Pulse

Arom (1991) “a succession of sounds capable of giving rise to a segmentation of time during which it flows in isochronous units…there can only be music inasmuch as it is measured and ‘danceable.’”

Internally generated and/or externally guided attentional pulse is a … widely accepted feature of temporal perception in which perceived regularities build expectations as to the timing of future events…Musical pulse, however, would appear to be distinct in that it is

maintained over time and is

— perceived unambiguously or at related hierarchical levels.”

“Production and/or entrainment to a musical pulse putatively involve internal periodic oscillaory mechanisms overlapping with motor-coordination, and provide a mechanism to affect and regulate levels of physiological arousal.” 

Period correction vs. phase correction

phase correction adjusts for asynchronies between the last response and stimulus events assuming an unchanged period…” and 

“seems to represent independent processes of largely automatic action control,” 

“dependent only on intention.”

“…period correction modifies the next target interval on the basis of discrepancies between the timekeeper interval and the last or last few interstimulus intervals, thus altering the period of the attentional musical pulse”…

“facilitated by or incurs conscious awareness of the tempo change and can thus be interpreted as a representations of intentional cognitive control” (Repp, 2001). 

Requires “intention, attention, and awareness.”



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