On the Question of Meter in African Rhythm: A Quantitative Mathematical Assessment

Godfried Toussaint
Proceedings of Bridges 2013: Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, Culture (2013)
Pages 559–562


For a given collection, corpus, or genre of musical rhythms, the pulse saliency histogram lists the number of times a note onset occurs in each pulse position of the rhythm time span. Two families of rhythms may then be considered to be similar with respect to their pulse location preferences if their pulse saliency histograms resemble each other. This mathematical tool thus provides a quantitative method for assessing the similarity of music corpora, and for statistically testing musicological hypotheses. Its usefulness is illustrated in the context of measuring the similarity of African and Western music, and revisiting the issue of whether African music exhibits hierarchical meter.