Neural representation of a rhythm depends on its interval ratio.
Rhythm is determined solely by the relationship between the time intervals of a series of events. Psychological studies have proposed two types of rhythm representation depending on the interval ratio of the rhythm: metrical and nonmetrical representation for rhythms formed with small integer ratios and noninteger ratios, respectively. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to test whether there are two neural representations of rhythm depending on the interval ratio. The subjects performed a short-term memory task for a seven-tone rhythm sequence, which was formed with 1:2:4, 1:2:3, or 1:2.5:3.5 ratios. The brain activities during the memory delay period were measured and compared with those during the retention of a control tone sequence, which had constant intertone intervals. The results showed two patterns of brain activations; the left premotor and parietal areas and right cerebellar anterior lobe were active for 1:2:4 and 1:2:3 rhythms, whereas the right prefrontal, premotor, and parietal areas together with the bilateral cerebellar posterior lobe were active for 1:2.5:3.5 rhythm. Analysis on individual subjects revealed that these activation patterns depended on the ratio of the rhythms that were produced by the subjects rather than the ratio of the presented rhythms, suggesting that the observed activations reflected the internal representation of rhythm. These results suggested that there are two neural representations for rhythm depending on the interval ratio, which correspond to metrical and nonmetrical representations.