Is There A Critical Period For The Development Of Rhythmic Perception?

29 Sep

Rhythmic perception is a prominent area of research in music cognition.  How do we acquire our abilities to perceive rhythm?  Is it innate?  Or rather, learned?  Previous studies showed that rhythmic perception can be improved with regards to age and musical training.  However, several researchers were curious on whether there was a critical developmental period or window of time in which rhythmic perception abilities might increase substantially.  If such a window of time is discovered,  the researchers suggested that specific training programs can be catered to certain age-groups, in hopes of facilitating the development of rhythmic perception.

Stefania Lucchetti, Lucia Cacciò, and Rossana de Beni devised an experiment consisted of three tests: one test on duration, one test on rhythm, and one test with nursey rhymes.  Each section required the participants to compare  musical excerpts and determine differences of time or duration between them.  The participants were over 200 children ranging from 3 graders to 5th graders.  A group of female teachers also participated for comparison.

According to the results, the third graders performed worse than the fourth and fifth graders on the duration and rhythmic taks, suggesting a significant age effect.  Interestedly, no differences in performance were found on the nursery rhyme task, which required the participants to denote differences between the rhythm of a recited nursery rhyme and the rhythm of hand claps.  The teacher subjects outperformed the student subjects on all three of the tasks.

Additionally, the researchers decided to compare these results with a primary school test that evaluated reading comprehension, meta-comprehension, listening comprehension, writing, study skills, reasoning, numeracy, and sensory motor skills.  For the third grader participants, a correlation was found between the duration series and in a time series concerning numeracy.  Performance with the nursery rhymes positively correlated with performance in a sensory motor skill series concerning fine motility.  And finally, a positive correlation was shown between the duration, rhythm, and nursery rhyme tests.

The researchers observed a drastic improvement in ability of rhythmic perception between the passage from third to fourth grade.  This might suggest a developmental period for rhythmic perception during these age years. However, duration detection still remains ambiguous, and future research is required to determine whether a critical period for third and fourth graders is a viable explanation for these improvements.

Lucchetti, S., Caccio, L., & de Beni, R. (1997). The development of rhythmic perception in eight to ten-year-old italian children. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 133, 52-56.

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