Academic Commons

Theses Doctoral

Navigating Musical Periodicities: Modes of Perception and Types of Temporal Knowledge

DeGraf, Galen Philip

This dissertation explores multi-modal, symbolic, and embodied strategies for navigating musical periodicity, or “meter.” In the first half, I argue that these resources and techniques are often marginalized or sidelined in music theory and psychology on the basis of definition or context, regardless of usefulness. In the second half, I explore how expanded notions of metric experience can enrich musical analysis. I then relate them to existing approaches in music pedagogy.
Music theory and music psychology commonly assume experience to be perceptual, music to be a sound object, and perception of music to mean listening. In addition, observable actions of a metaphorical “body” (and, similarly, performers’ perspectives) are often subordinate to internal processes of a metaphorical “mind” (and listeners’ experiences). These general preferences, priorities, and contextual norms have culminated in a model of “attentional entrainment” for meter perception, emerging through work by Mari Riess Jones, Robert Gjerdingen, and Justin London, and drawing upon laboratory experiments in which listeners interact with a novel sound stimulus. I hold that this starting point reflects a desire to focus upon essential and universal aspects of experience, at the expense of other useful resources and strategies (e.g. extensive practice with a particular piece, abstract ideas of what will occur, symbolic cues)
Opening discussion of musical periodicity without these restrictions acknowledges experiences beyond attending, beyond listening, and perhaps beyond perceiving. I construct two categories for various resources and strategies: those which involve dynamic symbolic encoding (such as conducting patterns and tala gestures) and those which utilize static theoretical information (such as score-based knowledge and calculation of abstract relationships). My primary means of revealing and exploring these additional resources involves instances of “metric multi-tasking,” in which musicians keep track of multiple non-nested periodicities occurring simultaneously. One of the reasons these situations work so well at revealing additional resources is that attentional entrainment offers no explanation for how one might be able to do such a thing (only that attention is insufficient for the task). I do not make these moves in an attempt to significantly alter the theory of attentional entrainment. Rather, I frame that model as but one mode of temporal perception among many. I also leave room for types of temporal knowledge which may not be perceptual at all, but are nonetheless useful in situations involving musical periodicity. Pedagogical systems already make use of dynamic symbols and theoretical knowledge to help with temporally difficult tasks, and generally not virtuosic feats of metric multi-tasking. With these ideas in mind, I return to more straightforward “mono-metric” contexts and reconsider what to do with the concepts of “meter” and “perception.”


  • thumnail for DeGraf_columbia_0054D_14772.pdf DeGraf_columbia_0054D_14772.pdf application/pdf 5.02 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Dubiel, Joseph
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 21, 2018