Why do we tap our feet to a Musical beat?

Researchers at the university of Oslo have explored the ‘motor theory of perception,’ a theory which is responsible for the relationship between musical sound and body movement. The outcome shows that, naturally, we tend to mentally simulate body movement when listening to music.

According to  Professor Rolf Inge Godøy, the lead author, a more systematic knowledge of the links between musical sound and motion is required to explore the gestures people make to describe particular sounds. Godøy and colleagues then tried a wide range of research methods such as a ‘sound-tracing’ experiment on participants.

“Music-related motion, both sound producing and sound accompanying, leaves a trace in our minds and could be thought of as a kind of shape representation, one intimately linked to our experience of the salient features of musical sound, professor Godøy said. The basic notion here is that images of sound-producing and other sound-related motion are actively re-created in listening and in musical imagery, hence the idea that motor theory could be the basis for the similarities between sound and body movement when we experience music.”

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Participants were asked to trace sounds in the air using motion capture technology, after they’ve been entertained with three-second sounds that differ in musical qualities. Researchers noticed similarity among the participants’ gestures, particularly between the vertical positioning of their hands and the pitch of the sound.

Author also discovered strong relationship between rhythm and movement. While a weaker sound-motion relationship was discovered in dissonance.

  • Rolf Inge Godøy, Minho Song. Exploring Sound-Motion Similarity in Musical Experience. Journal of New Music Research, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1080/09298215.2016.1184689   

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