The Interplay Between Metric and Figural Rhythmic Organization

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Abstract

Three experiments investigated the relative importance of figural and metric rhythmic organizations. Figural organization is determined by the numbers of tones in successive groups. For figural organization alone, the timings between the onsets of each group are relatively unavailable, so listeners cannot discriminate between 2 rhythms that have the same sequence of groups but different timings between the groups. Thus, traditional views argue that a metric organization is necessary: The timing between adjacent groups is perceived by means of the strong–weak sequence of beats. These experiments, however, suggest a limited role for meter. The metric strength of the individual rhythms affected discrimination of pairs of different rhythms with the same figural organization only when an external meter pulse accompanied the rhythm and only when the rhythm with the stronger meter was the first of the pair.

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