Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

Does Melody Assist in the Reproduction of Novel Rhythm Patterns?

Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

Does Melody Assist in the Reproduction of Novel Rhythm Patterns?

Article excerpt

We examined music education majors' ability to reproduce rhythmic stimuli presented in melody and rhythm only conditions. Participants reproduced rhythms of two-measure music examples by immediately echo-performing through a method of their choosing (e.g., clapping, tapping, vocalizing). Forty examples were presented in melody and rhythm only conditions; half were in duple, half in triple. Performances were analyzed for melody condition (melody, rhythm only), measure (first, second) and subdivision (duple, triple). A significant interaction occurred between melody condition and measure: participants were more accurate in the first measure for the rhythm only condition, yet more accurate in the second measure for rhythms with melody. Another significant interaction occurred between measure and subdivision: decline in accuracy between measures one and two was more pronounced for duple than triple. Results suggest that melody inhibits the recall of initial rhythmic material, yet assists recall of rhythmic material occurring later in an excerpt.

Perceiving and recreating pitch and rhythm are fundamental to musical learning and development. At the earliest stages of musical development, young learners begin to respond to pitch and rhythm through rote learning of simple melodies, chants and rhythm games. Rote learning relies on the ability of learners to imitate a sequence of sounds whether pitched (e.g., echoing a melody) or nonpitched (e.g., echo clapping a rhythm pattern). Eventually, learners can also be taught to respond to a notation system, moving from rote to note, leading to the increasingly complex reproduction of pitch and rhythm without initially hearing a sound model (i.e., sight reading). While musical literacy is a major goal of music education at every level of learning, it is not a necessary aspect of musical enjoyment nor is it required for every type of performing. Yet, developing perceptual prowess is an ongoing part of music education regardless of whether efforts to teach music reading succeed or not.

The notion that music perception can be improved through teaching is evident in curricular activities at all levels. Even during the process of teaching notation, teachers continue to reinforce perceptual skills in the absence of notation. Rote activities are often interwoven with music reading under the assumption that developing both of these dimensions is mutually beneficial. Rhythms are sometimes performed without pitch, such as echo clapping in a general music class or tapping, clapping or sizzling out rhythms without instruments in band, orchestra or choir classes. Even collegiate-level learners take aural training classes in which they must recall aurally presented musical stimuli by responding (imitating) vocally, instrumentally, and/or by notating the stimulus in standard notation (e.g., aural dictation). Sometimes the musical stimuli combine rhythm and pitch; sometimes rhythms are presented without pitch.

Background

Rhythm, and its accompanying cognitive processes, has been a focus of numerous studies in music perception and cognition.1 Researchers have determined that rhythm can be processed either with tonal information or as a separate phenomenon, depending on the coherence of the musical context (Boisen, 1981; Boltz, 1999; Jones, Boltz, & Kidd, 1982; Schellenberg & Moore, 1985). Other studies have indicated that incidental learning of rhythm may occur, even when rhythm is not attended to directly, and that an initial presentation of a rhythm affects the perception of subsequent presentations (Beckett, 1997; Boltz, 1999; Dowling, 1973; Fitch Sc Rosenfeld, 2007; Jones, Boltz, & Kidd, 1982; Schellenberg & Moore, 1985). Moreover, researchers have also studied the relationship between rhythm and other musical elements, and have demonstrated that non-rhythmic and non-temporal information, such as pitch and length of musical material, can affect listeners' recollection of rhythm (Beckett, 1997; Brittin, 2000; Sink, 1983,1984). …

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