Benjamin Guerrero

Dancers’ Auditory Perception of Microtiming Deviations Within Drum Grooves

     The purpose of this descriptive study is to investigate the differences in microtiming discrimination, or the perception of rhythmic fluctuations at the millisecond level, between dancers, percussionists, and participants inexperienced in formal musical or dancing instruction. Many popular musical genres have established grooves or feels, and experienced dancers express those grooves through movement. It is the researcher’s hypothesis that experienced dancers will be more sensitive to microtiming deviations within their preferred musical style compared to inexperienced participants. This study aims to produce correlative data that can provide insight for music educators when teaching music of different styles in their classroom. This study may help provide evidence supporting the use of popular music, multicultural music, and movement or dancing in the classroom so that students receive a well-rounded music education.

The research questions addressed in this study include:
     1. How do dancers’ auditory perception of microtiming deviations in drum grooves in various styles of music differ from percussionists and participants inexperienced in formal musical or dancing instruction?
      2. To what extent does dancing experience in a specific musical style affect the temporal resolution of the participant?

Background Information

     The National Core Arts Standards have rhythmic components for all grade levels, and by the 8th grade, it recommends that music students be able to sight-read notation and “identify how cultural and historical context inform performances and results in different music interpretations” (National Association for Music Education, 2014). Many of the popular approaches to music teaching include elements of learning rhythm through movement. Dalcroze Eurythmics uses body motion and rhythmic solfege to develop a student’s inner ear, to internalize rhythmic expression, and to develop a foundation for improvisation (Abramson, 1980; Anderson, 2011; Caldwell, 1993; Juntunen & Hyvönen, 2004; Mead, 1994). Orff Schulwerk can help develop students’ understanding of rhythm through group activities using rhythmical body movements, such as clapping or stamping (Shamrock, 1986). The Kodály method infuses games, dances, and play to represent musical lines, in addition to using body percussion (Bowyer, 2015). Music learning theory stresses the importance of using movement to develop rhythmic audiation (Gordon, 2012). Contemporary music education research is informed by cognitive and neurological music research (Flohr, 2010).

     Groove can be defined as the innate feeling of wanting to move some part of your body along with the music (Davies, Madison, Silva, & Gouyon, 2013). Music cognition researchers have documented the neurological relationship between movement and musical rhythms (Bengtsson et al., 2009; Grahn & Brett, 2007; Leow, Parrott, & Grahn, 2014; Loehr & Palmer, 2009; Thaut, 2009; Thaut, Trimarchi, & Parsons, 2014; Trainor et al., 2009; Witek et al., 2014). It has also been established that percussionists have a higher rhythmic sensitivity than nonmusicians (Davies, Madison, Silva, & Gouyon, 2013; Rammsayer & Altenmüller, 2006; Rammsayer, Buttkus, & Altenmüller, 2012). However, research on the audiomotor entrainment of dancers is still in its infancy. Typically, dancers may or may not produce movements that synchronize with the overall pulse of the music (Kotz, Ravignani, & Fitch, 2018). It is the researcher’s interest to understand the rhythmic perception of dancers in order to make connections between movement, music cognition, and music education.


     In order to find participants with experience moving to specific musical styles, volunteers from various dance classes were recruited to participate in the study. A group of percussionists were recruited to help establish the upper bound for the auditory perception test created for this experiment. A group of business students will serve as a control group. The subjects participated in an “A-Not-AR with Sureness” discrimination task online where they compared 12 reference drum samples (three different patterns for each musical style) with several alterations of each sample in a random order within blocks, for a total of 48 drum sample pairs. For each drum pair, the original, unaltered sample was always presented first as a reminder, followed by either the identical sample or one with a microtiming deviation. While wearing headphones, the subjects had to determine if the second audio sample was “A” or “Not A” and indicate their level of confidence by deciding if they were sure, not sure, or guessing their answer. The altered drum samples differed only in the 16th note swing ratio with microtiming deviations of plus or minus 10ms, 20ms, and 40ms. Musical styles included Latin, jazz, and hip-hop, as well as snare drum patterns. To create the altered drum samples, stylized drum loops from either Logic Pro X or were spliced at each 16th note transient maintaining any swing variation within each stylized groove. Then, using Logic Pro X, the second and fourth 16th note of each beat were then moved plus or minus 10ms, 20ms, or 40ms, depending on whether the sample was already swung or straight. The snare drum patterns were recorded live, quantized to the metronomic grid, and then edited for the variations. All of the drum samples were time-shifted to 130BPM so that the 40ms deviations were sufficiently noticeable across the different musical styles. The subjects also answered background questions about their music listening preferences, musical instruction and performance experience, and dancing instruction and performance experience.


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