Mr Courtney Hilton


Thesis work

Thesis title: Tangible rhythm: Gestural imagery to predict temporal intervals and to feel metrical structure

Supervisors: Michael J JACOBSON , Micah GOLDWATER

Thesis abstract:

Expert musicians have an astounding capacity for temporally precise, flexible, and cognitively controlled action. How do they develop this capacity, and how can music education better support its development? My PhD research explores how spatially organised gestures can become internalised as ‘gestural imagery’ and help people feel and predict rhythm differently. Underlying this are emerging notions of how the brain’s motor system is functionally involved in adapting to and anticipating temporal events, supported by action simulation and internal model mechanisms (Schubotz, 2007). Specific types of mental imagery are also common to musical expertise, and are thought to cognitively drive these kinds of mechanisms in the sensorimotor system (Keller, 2012). Motor imagery and externally realised actions have also been long shown to recruit overlapping brain areas (Jeannerod, 2001). And more recent research has supported the theoretical possibility that actions have a top-down effect on perception and attention, and that this effect arises from the covert motor processes in the brain prior to the external movement itself (Morillon, Schöder, Wyart, 2014). Therefore, rhythmical mental imagery that engages congruent spatiomotor representations may support rhythm perception, offering a spatially and motorically grounded way of representing and processing othewise intangible temporal information. I test hypotheses related to this in a series of 3 experiments using behavioural and neuroimaging data. Experiment 1 explores, using an EEG methodology, spatial congruence effects in how we encode metrical information—UPbeats and DOWNbeats—and how this can be mediated by spatial organised gestural-imagery. Experiment 2 explores how this same gestural imagery can mediate temporal prediction in a sensorimotor syncrhonisation task. And experiment 3 explores the interference of temporal prediction abilities through the loading of visuospatial working memory as compared to loading auditory working memory. Both experiment 2 and 3 use a functional near infrarer spectroscopy methodology to localise involvement of underlying neural systems related to predictive behaviour. This research is hoped to lead to new approaches to learning rhythm in music education, and to further our understanding of spatial cognition and our brain's motor system.

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