The ability to remember tempo (the perceived frequency of musical pulse) without external references may be defined as absolute tempo (AT). To our knowledge, no systematic assessments of AT have been performed using laboratory tasks comparable to those assessing absolute pitch. In the present study, we asked 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians to listen to a seven-step `tempo scale' of metronome beats, each associated to a numerical label, and then perform two memory tasks. In the first task, participants heard one of the tempi and attempted to report the correct label, in the second, they saw one label and attempted to tap the correct tempo. A musical and visual excerpt was presented between successive trials as a distractor to prevent participants from using previous tempi as anchors. Thus, participants needed to encode tempo information with the corresponding label, store the information, and recall it to give the response. We found that more than half were able to perform above chance in at least one of the tasks, and that musical training differentiated between participants in identification, but not in production. We propose that, at least in production, motor representations are related to tactus, a basic internal rhythmic period that may provide a body-based reference for encoding tempo.
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