OSU Course Info
Ohio State University
School of Music

Rhythm Perception Timeline

Important Durations and Interonset Intervals

by Miriam Tumeo

N.B. Blue font is used to indicate statements that pertain to spans of time (or duration) rather than inter-onset intervals.

0.002 seconds
(2 milliseconds)
Experimentally shown to be the minimum time separation required for two stimuli to be perceived as distinct sounds (does not generalize to all types of stimuli). (Hirsh 1959)
0.02 seconds
(20 milliseconds)
Experimentally shown to be the minimum time separation required so that the order of two sounds can be distinguished (does not generalize to all types of stimuli). (Hirsh 1959)
0.03 seconds
(30 milliseconds)
Shortest possible length of a spoken English consonant (voiced stop consonants). (Fourakis lecture, 2005)
0.1 seconds
(100 milliseconds)
Fastest perceptual musical separation possible (London, 2004, pp.27,42), though in practice, usually only subdivisions (London, 2004, pp.34-35). Based upon multiple experiments showing 100-130 ms to be a boundary for performance and perception. Also shown to be the time needed to cortically process musical elements (London, 2004, p.29). Longest consonant length (unvoiced stop consonants with aspiration. Note: fricatives can be held longer; no standards exist for fricative length. (Fourakis lecture, 2005).
0.12 seconds
(120 milliseconds)
Time needed to process verbalizations. (Lehiste, 1970).
0.2 seconds
(200 milliseconds)
Fastest perceivable speed for musical beats, fastest tactus (200-250 ms, London, 2004, pp.34-35) Note that separation is perceived with a lower threshold (100 ms) but cannot be used as a beat (London, 2004, pp.37-38). Fastest musical tempo (London, 2004, p.31). Also considered the lower end of temps courts (upper end is 300 ms, Fraisse, Clarke, p.474). Shortest vowel length in normal speech (Fourakis lectures, 2005).
0.25 seconds
(250 milliseconds)
Amount of recordable time in echoic memory; that is, chunks of sound stimuli are recorded in echoic memory at this length of time (London, 2004, pp.34-35; based on Crowder).
0.4 seconds
(400 milliseconds)
Tactus of children (Jones 2000, London, 2004, p.34), also the boundary between temps courts and temps longs (Fraisse, Clarke 475). Longest vowels in normal speech last this long Fourakis lecture, 2005).
0.45 seconds
(450 milliseconds)
Lower limit for temps longs (upper end is 900 ms, Fraisse, Clarke 475).
0.6 seconds
(600 milliseconds)
Tactus of adults (Jones 2000, London 34), also lower end of indifference interval (upper end is 700 ms, Parncutt 1994).
0.7 seconds
(700 milliseconds)
Upper limit for the indifference interval (lower limit is 600 ms, Parncutt 1994).
0.9 seconds
(900 milliseconds)
Upper limit for temps longs (lower end is 450 ms, Fraisse, Clarke, 475).
1 second Echoic memory half life (Huron & Parncutt, 1993).
2 seconds Perception of successive isochronous events as beats begins to break apart here (2-3 seconds, London, 2004, p.30). Also shortest length of next layer of conscious memory above echoic memory (playback in head can be for up to 10 seconds of information, Clarke 476). Slowest musical tempo (London, 2004, p.31).
3 seconds Lower limit of perceptual present (Clarke 476, 8 seconds is the upper limit).
3.4 seconds Physical synchrony with an isochronous beat pattern is no longer possible (London, 2004, p.30).
6 seconds Upper limit of rhythm perception (London, 2004, p.42, p.27, where he states it's between 5 and 6 seconds, 2-3 times the amount where the perception first starts to fall apart).
8 seconds Upper limit of perceptual present (Clarke, p.476, 3 seconds is the lower limit).
10 seconds Maximum amount of space in intermediate memory between echoic memory and consciousness (Clarke 476).
30 seconds Musicians without perfect pitch cannot recreate the key of a previously heard piece without rehearsal in memory. (Cook, 1987).
288 seconds (4:48) Median duration of random sample of 101 recorded CD tracks. Median duration of a musical "selection" or "piece."
86,400 seconds
(one day)
Sleep and wake cycles, daily routines and schemas (circadian rhythms). Note that the wake cycle hits once every 24 hours and lasts for about 16 hours (57,600 seconds), and that the sleep cycle hits once every 24 hours at the end of the wake schedule, and lasts for about 8 hours (28,800 seconds).
2,628,000 seconds
(1 month)
Menstruation, full moon, bills due, month changes.
7,884,000 seconds
(3 months)
Change of season, quarter changes.
31,536,000 seconds (1 year) Holidays, birthdays, taxes, anniversaries.

Clarke, E.F. (1999). Rhythm and timing in music. In: D. Deutsch (Ed.), The Psychology of Music. Revised edition. San Diego: Academic Press, pp. 473-500.

Cook, N. (1987). The perception of large-scale tonal closure. Music Perception, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 197-206.

Fraisse, P. (1978). Time and rhythm perception. In: E.C. Carterette & M.P. Friedmans (Eds.), Handbook of Perception. Vol. 8. New York: Academic Press, pp. 203-254.

Fraisse, P. (1982). Rhythm and tempo. In: D. Deutsch (Ed.), The Psychology of Music. New York: Academic Press, pp. 149-180.

Hirsh, I.J. (1959). Auditory perception of temporal order. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Vol. 31, No. 6, pp. 759-767.

Huron, D., & Parncutt, R. (1993). An improved model of tonality perception incorporating pitch salience and echoic memory. Psychomusicology, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 154-171.

London, J. (2004). Hearing in Time: Psychological Aspects of Musical Meter. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lehiste, I. (1970). Suprasegmentals. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Parncutt, R. (1994). A perceptual model of pulse salience and metrical accent in musical rhythms. Music Perception, Vol. 11, NO. 4, pp. 409-464.

This document is available at http://csml.som.ohio-state.edu/Music839D/Notes/timeline.html