Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2015

Degree Name

DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts)

Degree In


First Advisor

Iverson, Jennifer

First Committee Member

Tse, Kenneth

Second Committee Member

Cook, Robert

Third Committee Member

Coelho, Benjamin

Fourth Committee Member

Esposito, Nicole

Public Abstract

Musical meter is a framework that listeners and performers use to organize music as it occurs in time. You might imagine counting along to a song on the radio or moving to the beat played by the DJ at a club. Meter is a type of cognitive synchronization → anticipation mechanism: the music we perceive informs our ability to predict the music we are about to hear. How is this possible? When hearing music, listeners synchronize to the music, aligning their mental pattern of counting with the most strongly perceived musical events. Though music itself is an external stimulus, counting along is internal and occurs cognitively in the mind of the listener.

What happens when the music presents events the listener does not anticipate? The listener may choose to count through the unpredictable moments, or the listener might choose to give up their old pattern of counting and adopt a new pattern. This thesis analyzes these types of situations in a variety of musical styles. By drawing on what is known about both music cognition and metric theory, I offer a means to predict how a listener may react in these unpredictable situations. These reactions depend on two factors: the emphasis or accent perceived in the audible music itself and each individual’s conditioned musical memories. Historically, music theorists have characterized meter according to a strict set of relationships between rhythmic durations. This thesis shows, however, that musical meter is dynamic entity that resides within the mind of each individual listener.


publicabstract, Cognition, Meter, Music, Rhythm


xvii, 194 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 192-194).


Copyright 2015 James Edward Skretta

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Music Commons