Rhythm across cultures

This project investigates the perception and performance of musical rhythm in different cultures. It compares them in terms of their degree of cross-cultural similarity or diversity and thus will enhance an empirically founded discussion of anthropological universals and cultural diversity. The subprojects apply empirical methods such as digital corpus analyses and psychological experiments in contrasting cultural and social contexts. In order to obtain the most meaningful and reliable data possible in terms of cultural comparison, the data are mainly collected in field research situations, for example with local populations in Mali, Bulgaria, Bolivia, and Uruguay. The interdisciplinary project is co-directed by Rainer Polak and Nori Jacoby; the collaborative team of researchers disposes of skills in computational musicology, music psychology and auditory cognition as well as music theory and ethnomusicology.

External Research Partners

Prof. Dr. Justin London (Carleton College, USA)

Dr. Kelly Jakubowski (Durham University, UK)

Dr. Martín Rocamora (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)

Dr. André Holzapfel (KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Schweden)





Project Sections

Categorical rhythm perception

The perception of rhythmic figures relies upon the mechanism of categorical perception: the tendency for the human perceptual system to perceive the infinite variety of rhythmic nuances with reference to a small number of prototypical rhythmic patterns that serve as reference structures




Ensemble music and dance are prime examples of the human ability to precisely synchronize the actions performed by a group



Microtiming patterns

This subproject investigates the perception and aesthetic evaluation of patterns of microtiming—subtle lengthening or shortening of particular notes—that is inherent in the performance of musical rhythms.