CMS Summit: Music Science and Society

2014 Summit: Music Science and Society
May 16-17, 2014
Seattle, Washington

I recently submitted a poster presentation on the topic of rhythmic synchrony and its role in music education.  In additional to the musical need for parts to rhythmically line up, there are less obvious and significantly beneficial considerations that we can use as music teachers when drawing from other disciplines like sociology, psychology, and neuroscience.

My handout from the conference below, for a link for a pdf of the actual poster:

CMS 2014 – Poster


Rhythmic Synchronization: Applications of entrainment in music teaching and learning
Huei-Yuan Pan*

University of Southern California. Los Angeles, CA, USA

The human tendency for rhythmic synchronization is readily observable in everyday life.  With roots in psychology and biology, the cognitive implications of synchronization continue to gain attention in the neurosciences (Patel, 2005; Mesoudi, et al, 2009; Phillips-Silver & Keller, 2012).  Musicians are regularly called upon to exercise the ability to synchronize their bodies and voices to the beat, with and without other musicians.  This ability to synchronize one periodic beat with another, also known as rhythmic entrainment, is described as being at the core of collective musical experiences (Clayton et al, 2004), yet little transfer and application of the phenomenon has been addressed in music education.

Most rhythmic studies in music examine steady beat.  However, the experience of time and tempo fluctuates and musicians are regularly required to recognize and adjust accordingly.  Furthermore, because it has been suggested that coordinated movement may play a role in connecting people (Cross, 2005; Kirschner & Tomasello, 2009; Wiltermuth & Heath, 2009), the act of entraining includes a social component that teachers should consider when engaging students.  The aims of this literature review are to 1) gather and assess literature within the past 15 years that comment on cognitive, cultural, and social processes of entrainment and 2) synthesize how current findings could be applied in an accessible and practical manner for music teaching and learning.  These connections prove beneficial in determining which rhythmic skills are most pertinent in music teaching and learning, and the manners in which we acquire and apply them.  Conclusions will be presented at the conference, along with implications for future research.


Keywords: music, entrainment, synchronization, development, education

Selected References

Clayton, M., Sager, R., & Will, U. (2004). In time with the music: The concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. ESEM Counterpoint, 1, 1-84.

Cross, I. (2005). Music and meaning, ambiguity and evolution. In D. Miell, R. MacDonald, & D. Hargreaves (Ed.), Musical communication (pp. 27-43). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hannon, E. E., & Trainor, L. J. (2007). Music acquisition: effects of enculturation and formal training on development. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11, 466-472.

Hannon, E. E., & Trehub, S. E. (2005). Metrical Categories in Infancy and Adulthood. Psychological Science, 16, 48-55.

Jones, M.R. (2008). Musical time. In S. Hallam, I. Cross, & M. Thaut (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of music psychology (pp. 81-92). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jones, M. R., & Boltz, M. (1989). Dynamic attending and responses to time. Psychological Review, 96, 459-491.

Kirschner, S. & Ilari, B. (in press). Joint drumming in Brazilian and German preschool children: Cultural differences in rhythmic entrainment, but no prosocial effects. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. Retrieved from

Kirschner, S. & Tomasello, M. (2009). Join drumming: Social context facilitates synchronization in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 102, 299-314.

Macrae, Duffy, Miles, & Lawrence. (2008). A case of hand waving. Action synchrony and person perception. Cognition, 109, 152-156.

Malloch, S., and Trevarthen, C. (2009). Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human Companionship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mesoudi, A., Whiten, A., & Laland, K. N. (2006). Towards a unified science of cultural evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29, 329-347.

Patel, A. D. (2006). Musical rhythm, linguistic rhythm, and human evolution. Music Perception, 24, 99–104.

Phillips-Silver, J., & Keller, P. E. (2012). Searching for roots of entrainment and joint action in early musical interactions. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1-11.

Phillips-Silver, J., & Trainor, L. J. (2008). Vestibular influence on auditory metrical interpretation. Brain and Cognition, 67, 94-102.

Repp, B. H., & Penel, A. (2004). Rhythmic movement is attracted more strongly to auditory than to visual rhythms. Psychological Research, 68, 252–270.

Thompson, W.F., Graham, P., & Russo, F. A. (2005). Seeing music performance: Visual influences on perception and experience. Semiotica, 156, 177-201.

Williamon, R.A., & Davidson, J.W. (2002). Exploring co-performer communication. Musicae Scientiae, VI (1), 1-17.

Wiltermuth, S. & Heath, C. (2009). Synchrony and cooperation. Psychological Science, 20(1), 1-5.

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