BEAT AND METER INDUCTION ARE CONSIDERED important structuring mechanisms underlying the perception of rhythm. Meter comprises two or more levels of hierarchically ordered regular beats with different periodicities. When listening to music, adult listeners weight events within a measure in a hierarchical manner. We tested if listeners without advanced music training form such hierarchical representations for a rhythmical sound sequence under different attention conditions (Attend, Unattend, and Passive). Participants detected occasional weakly and strongly syncopated rhythmic patterns within the context of a strictly metrical rhythmical sound sequence. Detection performance was better and faster when syncopation occurred in a metrically strong as compared to a metrically weaker position. Compatible electrophysiological differences (earlier and higher-amplitude MMN responses) were obtained when participants did not attend the rhythmical sound sequences. These data indicate that hierarchical representations for rhythmical sound sequences are formed preattentively in the human auditory system.

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