Cognitive foundations of musical interaction - Exploring cooperative tapping

Tommi Himberg

University of Cambridge, UK

The majority of rhythm production studies on sensorimotor synchronization and entrainment have so far focused on the cognitive abilities of individuals and have not taken into account the nature of “music” as a social activity. The communication and interaction between performers and the cognitive processes needed for musical interaction, achieving and maintaining synchronicity, perceiving intentions and setting and aiming for common goals have been studied relatively little within the cognitive experimental framework.

As my PhD-project I am developing new methods for studying interpersonal entrainment and synchronization. In cooperative tapping tasks two people are simultaneously engaged in rhythm production tasks, for example tapping along a metronome beat (synchronization) or tapping the beat in the original tempo after the metronome has been faded out (continuation). Cooperative tapping allows interpersonal interaction to be studied in a controlled environment, but provides an open-ended setting for experimentation.

In cooperative tapping, the experimenter can control for example the feedback channels available for the tappers (i.e. whether they can see each other and/or hear each others’ tapping), can manipulate the task structure (i.e. providing one tapper with a metronome while leaving the other without, delaying auditory feedback, etc.) or the stimulus provided for tappers (perturbations in the metronome). In addition to isochronous tapping and metronome, different combinations of rhythm patterns can be used.

The pilot studies have aimed for identifying the factors involved in musical interaction. So far it has been found that the feedback conditions have a significant effect on both synchronization accuracy (timing error between the tapper and the referent (metronome)) and coordination accuracy (timing error between the two tappers). Obtaining high synchrony with the metronome and accurate coordination with the partner tapper often seem to be in competition, even though prior models would not predict such difficulty. In the pilot experiments the effects of available feedback channels, tempo, task congruence, grouping, auditory feedback delay and links between social and musical interaction have been investigated, typically using 5 or 6 pairs of tappers for each experiment. The results of these pilots are presented and the setting is evaluated by comparing these results to previous, individual-based research. Linear and circular methods for statistical analysis are also presented.

Future directions in this research project include studies on attentional resources and links between social and musical interaction and applying it for cross-cultural investigation of rhythm production.