Velautham, L., & Chen, R. S. Y. (2021). Can’t clap to a beat? How rhythmically challenged people experience and strategize keeping time to music.

Psychology of Music.

ABSTRACT: While the phenomenon of beat-deafness has been explored in clinical contexts, few studies have investigated how rhythmically challenged people experience the act of keeping time with music. Task-based semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight participants who self-identified as being unable to clap in time to a beat. Participants were asked to keep time with a gradated battery of musical stimuli using both claps and alternative gestures (e.g. head nodding, swaying) and to articulate their timekeeping experience and strategies. Analysis reveals three core themes: (a) an apparent disconnect between the act of identifying the beat and the physical act of clapping, (b) variation in strategies for keeping time depending on the type of musical example (i.e., whether the beat was explicitly played by a percussive instrument or not), and (c) variation in the ease of coordination and listening experience when a movement other than clapping was used to keep time. Despite being small in scale, this qualitative study sheds light on some of the underlying strategies and processes involved in beat abstraction and keeping time to music, informing options for the musical training of rhythmically challenged people.