Dissertation Index

Author: Chor, Ives

Title: Cognitive Frameworks for the Production of Musical Rhythm

Institution: Northwestern University

Begun: April 2009

Completed: June 2010


This dissertation introduces the theoretical concept of rhythmic frameworks and provides empirical evidence of their role in shaping musical behavior. Many popular musics of the African Diaspora, such as rhythm and blues, funk, and Afro-Cuban rumba, feature highly repetitive, syncopated rhythms. The dissertation outlines a theory according to which these figures interact with musical meter to form rhythmic frameworks, which provide context for composition, performance, and dance. Additionally, the dissertation offers empirical evidence that these frameworks influence cognitive processes involved in the production of musical rhythm. This work has implications for the fields of music theory and cognitive science. For music theory: rhythmic frameworks serve as a key element of rhythmic organization, and understanding their function is essential to the analysis of rhythm in styles based on repetition and variation. For cognitive science: rhythmic frameworks serve as cognitive constraints on production, and empirical studies of musical performance can provide new models of cognitive representations of musical time.

Three projects examine the role that rhythmic frameworks play in the production of musical rhythm. The first project consists of the development of a music theoretical method for analyzing rhythm in relation to relevant rhythmic frameworks, and the application of this method to several examples of African-American and Afro-Cuban popular music. The method identifies patterns of recurrence in performed rhythms, considering individual instrumental parts as well as multiple parts in an ensemble. The second project is a statistical analysis of rhythm in relation to Afro-Cuban clave in a corpus of MIDI performance data. The results of the analysis support the hypothesis that composers and improvising musicians vary rhythmic structure and microtiming to communicate elements of meter and rhythmic frameworks to listeners. The third project, drawing on empirical methods from cognitive science, is a set of laboratory studies designed to illuminate the roles that meter and clave play in constraining microtiming aspects of rhythm production. The studies, which measure performances by professional musicians, support the hypothesis that timing in performance is shaped by musicians' internal representations of rhythmic frameworks and metric structure.


Keywords: Analysis, Clave, Cognition, Meter, Popular music, Rhythm


Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Musical Theoretical Analyses
Chapter 3: Quantitative Analysis of Clave-Based MIDI Data
Chapter 4: Behavioral Studies of Microtiming
Chapter 5: General Discussion and Conclusions


Ives Chor
305 W Knox St
Durham, NC 27701

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