Metronome studies

Research project

Project management
Heike Henning

3 Mar 2020 - current

Study 1: Internal tempo representations

In this study, tempo representations of two pieces ( Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees and Air by Bach) were examined at five measurement time points three days apart.  The aim of the research project was to explore the stability and accuracy of tempo memory in musicians* and non-musicians*. In addition, it was investigated whether physical relaxation and activation induce a change in tempo preconceptions. Tempo preconceptions were measured by tapping evenly on a box. Sixty-three non-musicians (defined as those individuals who do not study or have not studied music) and 55 musicians participated in the study.

The results indicate that individuals are able to reproduce musical pieces very accurately and stably. Compared to non-musicians, musicians were able to reproduce the tempo of both pieces of music more correctly on average and fluctuated less in their tempo indications. It was noticeable that both groups were able to reproduce the tempo of Stayin' Alive more accurately than the tempo of Air . This could be explained by the different tempos of the pieces, or by the fact that there is a clear original tempo for the Pop piece, while different interpretations exist for the Air piece. The hypotheses about a connection between physical activation/relaxation (in the form of sports and meditation) and the tempo perceptions could not be confirmed. However, synchronous accompaniment mechanisms (e.g., moving to the beat, tapping along with the foot) and simultaneous singing along, as well as greater musical perceptual ability, were found to lead to more accurate tempo representations.

Study 2: Tempo Representations in Practical Music Making

This study was a conceptual replication of Study 1, this time measuring musical tempos through practical music making. At the beginning of the study, the participating 35 professional musicians (people who study or have studied music) and 26 amateur musicians (people who do not study music but play an instrument or sing) self-selected a piece of music for the study. Audio recordings of this piece were sent in at five measurement times at intervals of three days, with the aim of trying to match the self-selected target tempo as closely as possible. As in Study 1, the influence of synchronous accompaniment mechanisms, physical relaxation/activation, and musical perceptual ability was examined. The results indicate that musical tempo memory is higher and more accurate when playing music than when the tempo is merely typed (Study 1). However, no differences were found between professional and amateur musicians; professional musicians even tended to reproduce tempos more inaccurately. This could be explained by the high expressive importance of musical tempo choice and could be investigated in more detail in further studies. As in the first study, there was no correlation between the musical tempos chosen and physical relaxation or activation. Overall, then, Study 1 and Study 2 indicate that musical tempos are remembered very accurately and stably, and external influences show little influence. The role of musical expertise seems to vary depending on the reproduction strategy and should be further investigated.

Study 3: Musical tempo recall of pop pieces

In Study 3, the question of whether the accuracy of musical tempo memory depends on the target tempo of a piece was investigated. For this purpose, 19 well-known pop pieces covering a wide range of tempos (53 - 169 bpm) were selected in a preliminary study. These were then incorporated into an online study, where first those pieces were selected from all those known to the participant. Then, for each piece, tempos were reported twice: First, as in Study 1, a tempo performance was determined by regularly clicking on an application. Then, the piece of music was played at the clicked tempo and the tempo of the audio track was further adjusted (if desired). This study involved 402 participants, including 104 non-musicians*, 137 amateur musicians*, and 161 professional musicians*. Preliminary results show that the reproduced tempos are more accurate when the audio track is adjusted than when the tempos are clicked. In addition, as musical expertise increased, so did accuracy. Thus, non-musicians* showed the lowest accuracy of tempos, followed by amateur musicians* and professional musicians*. In addition, there was an interaction between musical status and reproduction method, indicating that individuals with less musical experience benefit more from being able to match audio tracks. Interestingly, there was an inverted U-shaped relationship between the tempo of the musical piece and accuracy: pieces around 100 bpm were reproduced most accurately, faster and slower tempos were remembered less accurately.


  • Henning, H., Vigl, J., & Gerstgrasser, S. (2020). The Inner Metronome . Submission to the Research Competition Mozarteum (RCM), awarded second prize.
  • Vigl, J., Gerstgrasser, S., Talamini, F., & Henning, H. (2022 ). Feel the beat: Stability and accuracy of musical tempo cues . Poster presentation at the long night of research in Innsbruck.
  • Vigl, J., Gerstgrasser, S., Talamini, F., & Henning, H. (2022). Accuracy and stability of musical tempo memory and the role of music expertise. Manuscript submitted to Music Perception.