The Complexity of Musical Rhythm: Theory versus Praxis

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The most fundamental aspect of music is rhythm. A key feature of rhythm useful in music information retrieval systems, rhythm classification, and musicology in general, is its complexity. Rhythm complexity is a multifaceted concept that may be analyzed using either theory or praxis. Theoretically complexity is measured by a variety of means such as syncopation, irregularity, off-beatness, rhythmic-oddity, entropy, or variance. In praxis on the other hand we have empirical methods that measure perceptual complexity, cognitive complexity, meter-tracking complexity, and rhythm performance complexity. The problems in developing a theory of rhythm complexity that correlates well with practice are highlighted and illustrated with examples of rhythms from different world cultures.


Keywords: Rhythm Complexity Measures, Syncopation, Irregularity, Off-Beatness, Rhythmic Oddity, Entropy, Variance, Perceptual Complexity, Cognitive Complexity, Meter Tracking Complexity, Rhythm Performance Complexity
Stream: Performing Arts Practices: Theatre, Dance, Music
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Godfried Toussaint

Professor Emeritus, School of Computer Science and Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology Schulich School of Music, McGill University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Godfried T. Toussaint received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1972 from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Since then he has been teaching and doing research in the School of Computer Science at McGill University in Montreal, in the areas of information theory, pattern recognition, textile-pattern analysis and design, computational geometry, instance-based learning, music information retrieval, and computational music theory. In February 2005 he also became a researcher in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology, in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University. In 2007 he was promoted to the rank of Professor Emeritus. In 1978 he was the recipient of the Pattern Recognition Society's Best Paper of the Year Award, and in 1985 he was awarded a Senior Killam Research Fellowship by the Canada Council. In May 2001 he was the recipient of the David Thomson Award for excellence in graduate supervision and teaching at McGill University. He is a founder of several annual conferences and workshops, an editor of several journals, has appeared on television programs to explain his research on the mathematical analysis of flamenco rhythms, and has published more than 350 papers on a wide variety of topics.

Ref: A09P0017