Global Survey of Rhythm Representation

Over the past few years, cross-cultural comparative work has made various claims about the universality of aspects of music, aesthetic preferences, and emotion (Fritz 2009, Brown & Jordania 2013, Savage et al. 2015). However, recent work suggests that features that were previously regarded as universal —such as consonance / dissonance, or rhythm perception— may in fact be at least partially determined by culture (McDermott et al. 2016, Jacoby & McDermott 2017, Polak et al. 2018). We have accordingly initiated the Global Survey of Rhythm Representation, a multicultural collaborative project that aims to understand the interaction of the roles of biology and culture in the study of simple rhythms. The survey is based on a novel paradigm we developed that is nearly entirely independent of verbal description, and can therefore be applied irrespective of the participant’s musical or cultural background. The cultures we investigated span a wide range of geographical and demographic conditions as well as linguistic and musical structures. This ongoing project has so far collected data jointly with over 30 collaborators, from over 700 participants hailing from Botswana, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, India, Japan, Mali, Turkey, Uruguay, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Josh McDermott, Rainer Polak, Jessica Grahn, Dan Cameron, Pat Savage, Shinya Fuji, Martin Clayton, Kelly Jakubowski, Kyung Myun Lee, Elizabeth Margulis, Patrick C. M. Wong, Esra Mungan, Martín Rocamora, Eduardo A. Undurraga, Suvarna Alladi, Preeti Rao, Rohit M A, Luís Jure, Tomas Huanca, Esther Conde, Ricardo Godoy, Daniel Goldberg, Timon Thalwitzer, Andre Holzapfel

Featured publications

Jacoby, Nori, and Josh McDermott. "Integer ratio priors on musical rhythm revealed cross-culturally by iterated reproduction." Current Biology 27.3 (2017): 359–370.