The ambiguous tactus: Tempo, subdivision benefit, and three listener strategies

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the present study models listeners' tactus choices relative to the metric structure of fully musical excerpts using data from a tapping experiment. Viewed from the standpoint of metric structure, tactus was ambiguous between individuals and within excerpts, providing no evidence that this behavior has a global basis in tempo or in a subdivision benefit. Tactus was more consistent within individuals, however, when viewed as following from one of three basic strategies: (1) tapping with a subdivided pulse, (2) tapping with the fastest consistent pulse in the music (a pulse with no consistent subdivision), or (3) using a mixture of these two strategies based on inconsistent rhythmic activity at the musical surface. Music training correlated positively with the first of these strategies. Since individual listeners engage with musical meter in different ways, ambiguity of tactus should be an expected feature of any audience's response to metrical music.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-448
Number of pages16
JournalMusic Perception
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Beat induction
  • Beat-finding
  • Meter
  • Synchronization
  • Tactus


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