Timing skills and expertise: Discrete and continuous timed movements among musicians and athletes

Thenille Braun Janzen, William Forde Thompson*, Paolo Ammirante, Ronald Ranvaud

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Movement-based expertise relies on precise timing of movements and the capacity to predict the timing of events. Music performance involves discrete rhythmic actions that adhere to regular cycles of timed events, whereas many sports involve continuous movements that are not timed in a cyclical manner. It has been proposed that the precision of discrete movements relies on event timing (clock mechanism), whereas continuous movements are controlled by emergent timing. We examined whether movement-based expertise influences the timing mode adopted to maintain precise rhythmic actions.

Materials and Method: Timing precision was evaluated in musicians, athletes and control participants. Discrete and continuous movements were assessed using finger-tapping and circle-drawing tasks, respectively, based on the synchronization-continuation paradigm. In Experiment 1, no auditory feedback was provided in the continuation phase of the trials, whereas in Experiment 2 every action triggered a feedback tone. 

Results: Analysis of precision in the continuation phase indicated that athletes performed significantly better than musicians and controls in the circle-drawing task, whereas musicians were more precise than controls in the finger tapping task. Interestingly, musicians were also more precise than controls in the circle-drawing task. Results also showed that the timing mode adopted was dependent on expertise and the presence of auditory feedback. 

Discussion: Results showed that movement-based expertise is associated with enhanced timing, but these effects depend on the nature of the training. Expertise was found to influence the timing strategy adopted to maintain precise rhythmic movements, suggesting that event and emergent timing mechanisms are not strictly tied to specific tasks, but can both be adopted to achieve precise timing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1482
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


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