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I'm currently helping develop a rhythm game, and as part of the scoring system, I'd like to make scores and ranks based more on accurate pattern recognition rather than hitting notes very exactly on time as is the case for many games of this variety.

In many cases, the margin of error for the best judgment in rhythm games is so small that it seems to be a matter of chance more than skill that a certain judgment is counted between "excellent" and "good" (for example, one game has the margin as small as ±0.011 s).

Of course, some people are better at hitting notes accurately than others either naturally or through practice, but I would like to find some actual research into what the base neurological limitations to rhythmic precision are and to what degree practice can actually improve it.


As a baseline benchmark for the best judgment, I was thinking of looking for some research into how accurately people can follow the tick of a metronome - for example, by measuring the average deviation of somebody tapping a button to a regular beat after about 100 beats or so when they've gotten used to it.

A Google search didn't return anything useful, probably because the search terms draw up so much other, irrelevant content. Is there any prior research on this subject? If so, where can I find it? If not, how could I conduct such an experiment myself?

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You might begin your search with the characteristics of Parkinson's disease. This degenerative disorder is precipitated by the death of neurons in the substantia niagra. This brain structure is composed of multiple neurological nuclei. Its function is to connect cortical regions and nuclei together, most significantly with the basal ganglia. The difference between nuclei and cortical brain circuits is important to your question.

The symptoms of Parkinson's are directly correlated with the function of nuclei in central nervous system: the integration of information. It's the integration of conscious thought, muscle memory, sensory-motor pathways that makes voluntary movement possible. Disruption of this network in Parkinson's degrades one's ability to voluntarily execute a movement.

The cerebellum also controls voluntary movement. As a cortical structure, it is involved more with the formation and maintenance of muscle memory than information integration. Damage here results in the loss of fine motor control as opposed to gross motor control in Parkinson's.

This problem has a sensory and motor component. It might be difficult to tackle your problem as a whole. Perhaps breaking it down into smaller pieces would shed some light on what you're looking for.

Here are 2 articles I found relating motor control with the cerebellum and substantia niagra.

Relating cerebellar damage with learning sequence information

Relating the substantia niagra with interval timing

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In performing a cursory Google Scholar search using the terms "keeping tempo", I found these articles that seem to cover your topic of interest:

Schulze, Cordes, and Vorberg (2005) Keeping Synchrony While Tempo Changes: Accelerando and Ritardando

Scheirer (1997) Tempo and beat analysis of acoustic musical signals

McKinnet and Moelants (2006) Ambiguity in Tempo Perception: What Draws Listeners to Different Metrical Levels?

Hopefully, these papers are a help to you. It doesn't hurt to conduct experiments that others have conducted. All that really does is add more information and data to what is currently available/known.

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