Notes on J. Bispham's (2006) "Rhythm in Music..." (Music Perception 24/2)

Notes on

Bispham, John. “Rhythm in Music: What is it? Who has it? And Why?” In Music Perception, Volume 24, Issue 2, December 2006, pp. 125–134. 

homologous — trait (e.g. physiology, capacity, behavior, tendency/inhibition, etc.) shared due to common ancestry

homoplaisic — trait (e.g. physiology, capacity, behavior, tendency/inhibition, etc.) shared due to common selection pressures.

Many have argued that MRB is adaption due to mother-infant interaction, coalition signaling, muscular bonding … reinforced through human-infant altriciality, female exogamy, sociality.

MRB (Musical Rhythmic Behavior)  = a “constellation of concurrently operating, hierarchically organized, subskills including 

- general timing abilities,

- smooth and ballistic movement (periodic and non-periodic), 

- the perception of pulse, 

- a coupling of action and perception, and 

- error correction mechanisms.”


ballistic movement — movement involving muscular initiation without necessary muscular continuity, i.e. bouncing, slapping, flinging, throwing, jumping (as opposed to putting, pressing, carrying, elevating, depressing, etc.) 

1. Periodic Production.

Wallin (2000) distinguishes metric, alternating movement (in many animals) from similar movement in humans, in that the latter can be entrained to an external stimulus. However, (according to Bipsham), not all rhythmic activity is metric/alternating. 

2. Perception

Monkeys distinguish human languages based on attention to rhythm, as do infants younger than 5 months. (Infants older than 5 months distinguish languages within rhythmic classes, based on narrower criteria.) 

3. Temporal Structuring

Animal communication in general is organized according to impulses for regulation of the behavior of others…conditioning is enough to predispose a signal that would affect another animal’s behavior. Conditioning endows signals with predictability. What appears to be temporal patterning may be just be redundancy (repeating a signal as the state of a condition persists), or “the epiphenomenal outcome of conflicting signaling functions.”

Rhesus screams’ timbres (and pitches?) are minimally distinct from individual to individual, but their rhythms must be distinct because monkeys can distinguish one another regardless…

Ape drumming is more a factor of phylogenetic proximinity and homologies related to motor skills.

Is “song” analagous between humans and other species?

McDermott and Hauser (2005) — no, animal song occurs under restricted conditions, is functional, sexual dimorphism.

Fitch (2006): contrasting pure enjoyment with biological function is a conflation of two levels, “none of the arguments provide compelling grounds for rejecting the traditional analogy between human and animal song.”


“…range of behaviors [in song] raise important and interesting issues regarding possible analogies to 

- vocal learning, 

- modes of perceiving temporally structured events and 

- sequecing of complex motor actions.”

 (not only contextually distinct, but distinct in mechanism)

(1) entraining mechanisms, and (2) interpersonal interaction are absent.

4. Ecological engagement

“internal oscillatory mechanisms shared between different domains of human behavior and cognition strongly suggest that entrainment in music constitutes an evolutionary exaption of more generally functional mechanisms for future-directed attending to structured events” 


— “the creation of a mutually manifest interactive framework for communication based upon a sustained ‘musical’ pulse

— period correction mechanisms

— coupling action with perception”

  … are all aspects of MRB that are not accounted for in exaption model above.


5.  Temporally structured duetting interactions

6 % of bird species coordinate duets, but could be “synchronous commencing of fixed action patterns”…rather than entrainment

Geisman (2000): Gibbons produce “rigid, precisely timed, complex…well-patterned duets”

but (Bipsham) “no evidence of a pulsed framework being employed.” 

 (nevertheless, excitation is related to the quantity of sound and interaction, and the activity is therefore interactive… —> strong analogy to MRB.) 

6. Synchronous chorusing

Synchrony derives from advanced signalling or “phase correction” (rather than period correction).

— participants desiring to signal first

— cooperative effort to maximize output

— predator avoidance

7. Nonmusical human interaction

personal entrainment is manifest in all human interactions, ranging from 

(a) loose, subconscious use of pulse as a framework for interpersonal/turn-taking interactions, to

(b) strict adherance to pulse (groove) in group behavior and synchronicity of output where participants are aware of the pulse ramework and desire to maintain a degree of temporal stability and group-coordination (e.g., music and dance). 

But “(a) precedes (b) ontongenetically (and possibly phylogenetically) and is … less complex…[MRB] cannot be explained as having evolved with relation exclusively to nonmusical behaviors.


ontogenesis — progressions of development occurring within a single organism

phylogenesis — progressions of development occuring in the course of species evolution


MUSICAL RHYTHMIC BEHAVIOR What is human-specific and music-specific?

Musical Pulse

Arom (1991) “a succession of sounds capable of giving rise to a segmentation of time during which it flows in isochronous units…there can only be music inasmuch as it is measured and ‘danceable.’”

Internally generated and/or externally guided attentional pulse is a … widely accepted feature of temporal perception in which perceived regularities build expectations as to the timing of future events…Musical pulse, however, would appear to be distinct in that it is

maintained over time and is

— perceived unambiguously or at related hierarchical levels.”

“Production and/or entrainment to a musical pulse putatively involve internal periodic oscillaory mechanisms overlapping with motor-coordination, and provide a mechanism to affect and regulate levels of physiological arousal.” 

Period correction vs. phase correction

phase correction adjusts for asynchronies between the last response and stimulus events assuming an unchanged period…” and 

“seems to represent independent processes of largely automatic action control,” 

“dependent only on intention.”

“…period correction modifies the next target interval on the basis of discrepancies between the timekeeper interval and the last or last few interstimulus intervals, thus altering the period of the attentional musical pulse”…

“facilitated by or incurs conscious awareness of the tempo change and can thus be interpreted as a representations of intentional cognitive control” (Repp, 2001). 

Requires “intention, attention, and awareness.”




Notes on G. J. Whitrow's "What Is Time" (NY: Oxford, 1972)

G. J. Whitrow. The Significance of Time.” Chapter 1 of What is Time? (New York: Oxford University, 1972).


{ background: some information about the “block universe” theory of time—that all times coexist, and that the universe is a four-dimensional block—as well as that theory’s alternatives:


And (linked within the above), Paul Davies’ article in Scientific American

<> }


Notes on the text:

p 128

According to Plato (Timaeus)

Natural law prefigures the universe, and is timeless, provided by ideal forms in a state of rest (abstract, unchanging)

Space = a preexisting framework, in which the universe exists, but 

Time produced by the universe, by its fluctuation and change

Time = “that aspect of change which bridges the gap between … the material universe and its ideal model.” 

p 129

According to Bertrand Russel

“Past and future must be acknowledged to be as real as the present, and a certain emancipation from slavery to time is essential to philosophic thought.” 

p 130

“Time’s arrow depicts the irreversible before-and-after succession of events”

“Time’s passage refers to the distinction that we make between past, present, and future.”

p 131

According to M.J.E. McTaggart

Time must be an illusion because

1. An event must never cease to be an event, and as an event, must never cease to have whatever characteristics it has, except

2. Its characteristics in relation to time, that its status as a far-future event, near-future event, present event, near-past event, etc. are in constant flux

3. the time at which a future event is past is in the future, the time at which a past event is future is in the past, and those times are also events, i.e. the changing state of an event as past, present and future is a state that also proceeds through time

p 132

Whitrow: McTaggart’s error is to treat time itself as a process in time.  

(Discuss: analogy in time-travel movies—the characters always go either forward or backward in time, and then proceed back to the present. In what temporal framework does this “and then” occur? Is there any temporal sense in which H.G. Wells, or Marty McFly, were once in another time, and are now “back?)

For a meteorologist or paleontologist, the concept of “now,” and the transitional nature of the present moment, is a crucial feature — 

(BLC: in contemplating processes unfolding in the past (paleontology) in terms of their having caused the enigma present evidence, or unfolding in the future (meteorology) in terms of their predictability in light of present evidence, the role of the present as a moving divisor, is essential.)

But for physics and some philosophical endeavors, it’s adequate to regard the significance of the present moment as an illusion; it is “sufficient to concentrate on the relations of ‘earlier than’ ‘later than’ and ’simultaneous with’.” 

“Some philosophers have argued that one cannot define the present except in reference to itself…there is no reason to suppose that what it defines has objective significance…Instead of accepting this view, can we establish the objectivity of past, present, and future?”

p 134

“In practice, we do not normally encounter [discrepancies between subjective experiences of “now”], and the world would be much more complicated if we did.” —> (BLC: within what contemporary physicists sometimes refer to as an “event horizon”, the concept of now has an objective, unifying reality, in that contiguous parts of the known universe respond in a unified way to similar impacts upon them… )

… “if the universe admits a common cosmic time for observers fixed in the galaxies (emphasis mine) then in terms of this cosmic time all events have a unique time-order.” and “we come back to Plato’s idea that time and the universe are intimately associated.” 

Atoms of Time

“The plausibility of these assumptions…that time is homogeneous and continuous…was…greatly strengthened by the development of precise methods and machines for the measurement of time…[and] by the general decline of belief in traditional [uneven] temporal associations” with seasons, “magical” notions of 7-year life cycles, and other cyclical/agrarian conceptions of time’s passage.

p 135

Puritan “routine of six days of work followed by a day of rest,” along with other industrial notions of time, were “an important step toward the social acceptance of the modern notion of time as even in quality, as opposed to the primitive sense of time’s unevenness and irregularity.”

“Nowadays most of us tend to accept automatically the idea that time is continuous because we believe i nthe continuity of our existence. 

p 136 

“The continuity of time” can be “called into question…Instead of time being infinitely divisible…like matter and energy, it may be atomic or granular in structure.” 

Corresponding to the material and atomic structure of space, a chronon “might be the time required for light to cross” minimum spatial displacements in an atom… “the possible existence of a chronon is a revolutionary idea that calls into question a fundamental feature both of the scientific idea of time that has prevailed in recent centuries and of the popular conception of time that most people accept intuitively.”


Precognition and the nature of time

“Another of the traditional properties of time that has also occasionally been called in question in recent years is its unidimensionality.”

p 137

“Suppose I precognize an event which is to occur next Sunday. In one respect — that is to say, in one dimension of time — this event has not yet come into being: it is still future and does not yet exist. But in another respect, or second dimension of time, it is past and so has already come into being.” (Demonstrate visually w/ Cartesian coordinates.)

Philosopher C.D. Broad: 

(GJW paraphrasing: “the phrase ‘future event’ does not describe an event of some special kind, as the phrase ‘sudden event’ or ‘historic event’ does. Instead, a future event is nothing but an unrealized possibility until it comes to pass and therefore can itself influence nothing, although the present knowledge that there will be such an event can influence our actions when it is called to mind…” 

p 138

“the hypothesis of two-dimensional time is…not required to explain [such cases].”)

The transitional nature of time

“In a block universe, as we have seen, past, present and future do not apply to physical events, and so they neither come into existence nor cease to exist — they just are.”

“If we inhabited a block universe, mental events would have a completely different kind of existence from physical events.” (Destruction of cause and effect.)


Composition with Structural Chromaticism, Draft 2

Due Monday, December 8

Composition with Structural Chromaticism, Second Draft: 

Making use of the melodic materials completed in your first draft, develop a short (24-32-bar) piano work that tonicizes a borrowed, chromatic, or borrowed chromatic mediant or submediant, and then returns to the home key.

You will get individual feedback on this composition December 10, to which you will respond in revisions for the final composition, due December 17.

{ Guidelines for Draft 1  (pdf) }


Analysis II, Step 2

Due Friday, December 5

1. Phrase graphs: Now that you’ve gained more familiarity with the harmony of a late-19th century song or aria, diagram 1-2 phrases (approximately 6-8 essential chords) using reduction and elaboration techniques you learned in weeks 1-5.

2. Motivic features: extending your work in step 1, describe at least one additional motivic feature, focusing on one of two possibilities:

- melodic development — write out at 3-4 versions of a melodic motive found in the work, showing how each is a divergent modification of the first. In 2-3 sentences, what purpose does this transformation serve?


- individuated harmony — how does Dahlhaus’ discussion of individuated harmony help you to understand “non-functioning” chords or progressions in the work?

You will receive individual feedback on this analysis December 8, to which you will respond in revisions for your final analytical graphs, due Monday, December 15.


Composition from Essential Intervals

Due Monday, November 10

1. Reduction to essential intervals: Reduce a double-period, or other long sentence, of your “favorite melody” to its essential treble-bass framework. As shown in the examples discussed in class, take care to simplify whereever possible, especially to eliminate “distinctive” features of the melody, revealing the most basic, and stepwise, “skeleton” possible. Turn this in.

(2. Then, form a precompositional plan by transposing the essential interval structure into a different key, and write it lightly over a spacious portion of your notebook. Feel free to add digressions—for example, could a predominant harmony be extended for a few measures? Could a deceptive cadence be added to delay the conclusion?)

3. Composition Draft (turn this in): Using different NCTs, rhythms, and motives than those found in the original, draft a new melody over your precompositional plan. Be flexibledo not retain the same notes and intervals “on the beat” that your reduction (step 1) shows. (No good composition in this style is without accented NCTs!)

— For part 1, you will be graded according to your understanding of the difference between NCTs or other digressions and the fundamental notes that they spring from. Marks down will be made for intervals that appear strong and important but are not harmonically supported.

— For part 2, you will be graded according to Kennan’s Ch 2 & 4 guidelines, so proof your work. You may knowingly violate the “step-skip” guidelines in this assignment, if you mark all such instances in your draft with an asterisk.