Indexed on: 14 Jun '18Published on: 14 Jun '18Published in: Frontiers in neuroscience
Prior research has shown that musical beats are salient at the level of the cortex in humans. Yet below the cortex there is considerable sub-cortical processing that could influence beat perception. Some biases, such as a tempo preference and an audio frequency bias for beat timing, could result from sub-cortical processing. Here, we used models of the auditory-nerve and midbrain-level amplitude modulation filtering to simulate sub-cortical neural activity to various beat-inducing stimuli, and we used the simulated activity to determine the tempo or beat frequency of the music. First, irrespective of the stimulus being presented, the preferred tempo was around 100 beats per minute, which is within the range of tempi where tempo discrimination and tapping accuracy are optimal. Second, sub-cortical processing predicted a stronger influence of lower audio frequencies on beat perception. However, the tempo identification algorithm that was optimized for simple stimuli often failed for recordings of music. For music, the most highly synchronized model activity occurred at a multiple of the beat frequency. Using bottom-up processes alone is insufficient to produce beat-locked activity. Instead, a learned and possibly top-down mechanism that scales the synchronization frequency to derive the beat frequency greatly improves the performance of tempo identification.