In many theories of meter inference (e. g., Benjamin, 1984; Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983), the cues that serve as markers for major metrical accent locations are the basis from which one infers or determines a meter. However, phrase and metrical structure often support one another with phrase boundaries coinciding with metrically important locations. Thus, it becomes difficult to determine which cues, if any, are used predominantly as the basis for meter inference. Three experiments are presented in which different time spans defined by harmonic, melodic, and temporal accents, and their coincidences were systematically pitted against one another. Musicians and nonmusicians were requested to identify the meter of the stimuli as belonging to a category of either a triple (e. g., 6/8 or 3/4 time), or a duple meter (e. g., 2/4 or 4/4 time). It was found that musicians use harmonic information much more often and reliably than do nonmusicians, who also use the temporal accent to define a metrical structure. Nevertheless, across all experiments, when a harmonic accent was present, subjects used that accent to define the meter. Furthermore, the coincidence of melodic accents was used more often than a temporal accent to determine a metrical structure. The implications of these findings in light of other research that shows that a temporal accent is heard as initiating major metrical locations (Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983; Longuet-Higgins & Lee, 1982, 1984; Longuet-Higgins & Steedman, 1971; Steedman, 1977) are discussed.

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