Synchronizing with Music: Intercultural Differences


Address for correspondence: Carolyn Drake, Laboratoire de Psychologie Expérimentale, CNRS UMR 8581, Université René Descartes, Institut de Psychologie, Centre Universitaire de Boulogne, 71, avenue Edouard Vaillant, 92774 Boulogne-Billancourt, France. Voice: (33) 01 55 20 59 30;


Abstract: The way in which listeners perceive music changes throughout childhood, but little is known about the factors responsible for these changes. One factor, explicit music training, has received considerable attention, with studies indicating that musicians demonstrate a more complex hierarchical mental representation for music and superior temporal organizational skills. But does acculturation—the passive exposure to a particular type of music since birth—also influence the acquisition of these skills? We compared the music synchronization performance of Tunisian and French subjects with music from these two contrasting musical cultures. Twelve musical excerpts were selected from the two popular music cultures, matched for perceived tempo, complexity, and familiarity, and subjects were asked to tap in time with the music. Tapping mode (rate and hierarchical level) varied with subjects' familiarity with the musical idiom, as evidenced by an interaction between musical culture and type of music: participants synchronized at higher hierarchical levels (and over a wider range) with music from their own culture than with an unfamiliar type of music. Thus, passive acculturation as well as explicit music tuition influence our perception and cognition of music.