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Something I've noticed now and then is that I'll be listening to a song off my music player and it sounds like it's being played in a tempo faster or slower than I remember the song being. Is this a defined/known phenomenon, and if so what is it's name and cause/reason for happening?

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"Is this a defined/known phenomenon" A broken mp3 player? :) P.s.: This is on-topic here, but the question will be received better if you try googling for a bit and incorporate those findings in it. –  Steven Jeuris May 13 '12 at 16:29
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@Steven: Heh, pretty sure it isn't that :P I've observed it over the years with several different ones. I tried googling some but the only thing I could find that was remotely related was something on music, memory, and how the brain stores absolute features of experienced events. –  RCIX May 13 '12 at 16:33
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"music tempo perception memory" is turning up some interesting links for me. –  Steven Jeuris May 13 '12 at 16:42
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It is always better to explain what you know about the process already in your question, and if you don't know anything about it then do a little bit of initial research to better frame your question. –  Artem Kaznatcheev May 13 '12 at 18:35

1 Answer 1

Vitouch et. al (2006) observed that "visual tempo significantly influenced the retrieved music tempo.".

Music is known to potentially affect the perception of visual scenes (e. g., Vitouch, 2001), as proficiently demonstrated in the movies. But do films also influence the perception of music? This study investigates cross-modal influences in perception, taking influences of “visual tempo” on perceived/retrieved music tempo as a model.

They conclude:

Both studies demonstrate clear crossover effects: There is not just “musical driving” of film scenes, but also “visual driving” of music perception. Results hint to holistic memory representations of audio-visual material.


On the other hand, an older paper by Levitin and Cook (1996) observes that long term memory for music can preserve the absolute tempo, even by non-trained musicians. They do not investigate the influence of visual stimuli as in the previous paper.

We report evidence that long term memory retains absolute (accurate) features of perceptual events. Specifically, we show that memory for music seems to preserve the absolute tempo of the musical performance. In Experiment 1, 46 subjects sang popular songs from memory, and their tempos were compared to recorded versions of the songs. Seventy-two of the subjects came within 8% of the actual tempo on two consecutive trials (using different songs), demonstrating accuracy near the perceptual threshold (JND) for tempo. In Experiment 2, a control experiment, we found that folk songs lacking a tempo standard generally have a large variability in tempo; this counters arguments that memory for the tempo of remembered songs is driven by articulatory constraints. The relevance of the current findings to theories of perceptual memory and memory for music are discussed.

Oliver Vitouch, Sandra Sovdat, Norman Höller (2006) Audio-vision: Visual input drives perceived music tempo. 9th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition
Levitin, D. J. & Cook, Perry R.(1996) Memory for musical tempo: Additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, pp. 927-935.

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Also an interesting paper: Sabine Strauß & Oliver Vitouch (2009) Adaptive memory representations of musical tempo and pitch –  Steven Jeuris May 13 '12 at 17:13

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