The goal of this study was to assess the ability of North American adults to synchronize and continue their tapping to complex meter patterns in the presence and absence of musical cues to meter.We asked participants to tap to drum patterns structured according to two different 7/8 meters common in Balkan music. Each meter contained three nonisochronous drumbeats per measure, forming intervals in a short-short-long (SSL) or a long-short-short (LSS) pattern. In the synchronization phase of each trial, participants were asked to tap in synchrony with a drum pattern that was accompanied by either a matching or a mismatching Balkan folk melody. In the continuation phase of the trial, the drum pattern was turned off and participants continued tapping the drum pattern accompanied by the same melody or by silence. Participants produced ratios of long to short inter-tap intervals during synchronization that were between the target ratio of 3:2 and a simple-meter ratio of 2:1. During continuation, participants maintained a similar ratio as long as the melody was present but when the melody was absent the ratios were stretched even more toward 2:1. Tapping variability and tapping position relative to the target locations during synchronization and ratio production during both synchronization and continuation showed that the temporal grouping of tones in the drum pattern was more influential on tapping performance than the particular meter (i.e., SSL vs. LSS). These findings demonstrate that people raised in North America find it difficult to produce complex metrical patterns, especially in the absence of exogenous cues and even when provided with musical stimuli to aid them in tapping accurately.

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