A new way to study musical synchronization

Synchronization is an important behavior among musicians, allowing them to sound their notes at exactly the same moment. This ability to produce near-simultaneous musical tones is called musical synchrony.

The study of musical synchrony has largely focused on pairs of musicians, according to Alexander Demos, clinical associate professor of psychology at UIC, and Caroline Palmer, visiting scholar at UIC from McGill University. But focusing on pairs leaves out a lot of what musicians do, the researchers explain in an opinion piece in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. For example, musicians often form subgroups that change over the course of a performance, such as when the violins start out together, then the other strings join, then just the cello breaks off to play with the reeds. And, within these changing subgroups, there are often performers taking on higher complexity roles or assuming leadership roles.

All of this plays into synchrony, which is why Demos and Palmer propose a new model for studying it that incorporates nonlinear dynamical theories (a branch of mathematics used to understand complex systems) and social theory that is used to study groups.

“Despite a large number of studies on dyadic interactions such as musical duets, scientists have been stumped on how to measure synchrony in larger groups,” Palmer said.

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