Two experiments investigated the perception of melodic and rhythmic accents in musical patterns. Musiclike patterns were created in which recurring melodic and/or rhythmic accents marked higher order periods that, when both accents were present, could differ in terms of period and/or phase according to the construct of joint accent structure (M. R. Jones, 1987). Listeners were asked to indicate the location of accents in these patterns by tapping to tone onsets. Each experiment pursued two main questions. First, are accents, as manipulated, salient to listeners? Second, do listeners track higher order time spans formed by melodic and rhythmic accents in a way that shows a sensitivity to interrelationships between melody and rhythm? Results supported affirmative answers to these questions in analyses of tapping locations and time spans between taps, respectively. Furthermore, results suggested that accents function as temporal landmarks that listeners can use when tracking the time structure of musical patterns, and that the complexity of this time structure arises from higher order time spans marked by different types of accents.
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