Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Absolute Tempo Perception of Popular Music

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Absolute Tempo Perception of Popular Music

Article excerpt

Several studies have demonstrated that the capacity to remember absolute tempo (AT) is fairly common (Brennan & Stevens, 2006; Dowling, Bartlett, Halpern, & Andrews, 2008; Halpern, 1988; Krumhansl, 2000; Levitin & Cook, 1996; Madison & Paulin, 2010). Briefly, AT refers to memory for the speed (e.g., beats per minute [BPM]) characterizing the performance of piece of music-the temporal equivalent to absolute pitch perception (Tan, Pfordresher, & Harré, 2010). The current research was designed to assess a listener's capacity for AT in a perceptual task with mass-marketed, popular1 music manipulated at faster and slower playback rates. The use of popular music was selected to assess AT as a general capacity in the population. On the basis of casual experience with popular music, listeners of various levels of musical sophistication may be able to make perceptual judgments. Hence, in the current research, listeners were asked to judge popular music excerpts that were faster and slower in tempo relative to the original recordings. Past findings on AT (Drake & Botte, 1993; Krumhansl, 2000; Levitin & Cook, 1996; Miller & McAuley, 2005; Quinn & Watt, 2006; Rashotte & Wedell, 2014) motivate hypotheses for the current tests of AT perception in mass-marketed popular music.

Memory for mass-marketed, popular music has been tested by asking participants to sing musical selections that they knew and enjoyed (Levitin & Cook, 1996). The participants, even those with little or no music training, tended to be fairly accurate in attempts to sing the music at the original tempi; typically, ±8% of the original beat. The accuracy of temporal productions in music varied somewhat by the musical genres and their associated rhythmic rigor (Levitin & Cook, 1996). Mass-marketed music may be particularly amenable to AT production because listeners are often only exposed to a single recording of a piece of music. While traditional songs like "Happy Birthday" or "Mary Had a Little Lamb" are interpreted and regularly altered, pop music recordings like Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" or the Beatles' "Hey Jude" are likely to be repeatedly experienced by a listener with one accepted original, standard version. Consequently, a listener is likely to have multiple exposures to the same recording and across varying contexts. That repetition of exposures across variable contexts could serve to develop an accurate and well-encoded memory representation. For this reason one might expect that pop music could potentially reveal a highly favorable paradigm for testing AT. However, the reported ±8% accuracy in this production task is less precise than found in AT perceptual studies that used novel musical stimuli (Drake & Botte, 1993; Miller & McAuley, 2005; Quinn & Watt, 2006).

One recent set of studies investigated the capacity for AT with highly popular music to evaluate the stability of the memory trace across temporal contexts (Rashotte & Wedell, 2014). Participants were presented highly familiar and unfamiliar musical samples from mass-marketed, popular artists (e.g., Lady Gaga, Eminem). After refamiliarization with the originals, tempo-altered versions of the musical samples were presented to participants. The participants evaluated the magnitude and direction (i.e., speeding vs. slowing) of the tempo modifications relative to their memory of the original. A temporal context was manipulated by clustering sets of the altered tempos that were much more rapid (or much slower) than the originals in the test blocks. Both familiar and unfamiliar popular music samples were subject to influence by the temporal context of testing. However, the influence tended to be greater with unfamiliar music, and was reduced when the memory trace was more stable with the familiar music. These findings suggest both the capacity to maintain a memory for AT and the plasticity of this memory with new exposures to similar stimuli. …

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