ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (11): 1762-1779.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.01762

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Effect of bronze drum training on rhythm perception and executive function of Zhuang drummers

ZHANG Hang2, WANG Ting3, FENG Xiaohui2, WEI Yiping1(), ZHANG Jijia1()   

  1. 1Faculty of Education, Guangxi Normal University, Guilin 541004, China
    2Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
    3New Era International Communication Research Institute, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China
  • Published:2023-11-25 Online:2023-09-01
  • Contact: E-mail:;


Rhythm, as the temporal variation in a sequence of sounds, plays a crucial role in understanding musical melodies and speech patterns. Previous research has shown that musicians exhibit superior abilities in processing music-related and unrelated information and show advantages in executive function. However, the specific component of musical training (pitch or rhythm) that yields these benefits remains unclear, largely due to the intertwined nature of pitch and rhythm training. This study seeks to understand the impact of exclusive rhythmic training on cognitive abilities, leveraging the unique opportunity provided by Zhuang drummers who have undergone bronze drum training without any formal melodic training.

The bronze drum is the artistic treasure of Zhuang nation. As a unique form of local instrumental music performance, Donglan bronze drum music pursues the asynchronicity and variability of rhythm, and has more characteristics than the music art synchronized with the collective, which requires a higher level of rhythm perception. The most distinctive feature of Donglan bronze drum music is the rich rhythm changes, which fully reflects the superb skill level of the players. Therefore, long-term bronze drum training may promote the drummer's music perception and higher cognitive function development.

We conducted six experiments involving 52 participants from Lan Yang, a small town in Guangxi Province's Donglan County. Among them, 26 individuals [Mean age = 49.88 ± 15.98 years] had long-term bronze drum training but no other musical training, while the other 26 [Mean age = 47.77 ± 12.62 years] had no music training at all. Participants underwent tasks in rhythmic and pitch change detection, combined rhythmic-pitch change detection, pitch-based auditory Stroop, auditory n-back tasks, and a cued alternating runs switching task.

The results indicated that the Zhuang bronze drummers exhibited superior rhythm perception compared to the control group (ACC bronze drummers = 0.43 ± 0.15, ACC control group = 0.33 ± 0.20, p = 0.046, Cohen's d = 0.58), with no discernable difference in pitch perception (ACC bronze drummers = 0.56 ± 0.21, ACC control group = 0.49 ± 0.23, p = 0.24) (see Figure 1), suggesting the bronze drum training may enhance auditory temporal fine-tuning. Regarding executive functions (see Figure 2), the drummers outperformed the control group in inhibitory control (RT bronze drummers = 804 ± 111 ms, RT control group = 888 ± 137 ms, p = 0.02) and working memory updating (ACC bronze drummers = 0.67 ± 0.15, ACC control group = 0.58 ± 0.11, p = 0.019), but there was no difference in switching performance (SC bronze drummers = 79 ± 121 ms, SC control group = 64 ± 147 ms, p = 0.85), aligning with the “Unity and Diversity of Executive Functions” hypothesis that expertise in rhythm perception doesn't uniformly improve all cognitive abilities.

This study demonstrates that the rhythmic perception ability of Zhuang bronze drummers is an interplay of cognitive factors and Zhuang musical culture exposure. The long-term bronze drum training significantly enhances rhythm perception and certain executive functions, revealing the non-aesthetic value of bronze drum performance. The unique “variation rhythm” style may have originated from the imitation of “frogs clamour”, a feature of the local bronze drum music culture.

Key words: rhythm, bronze drum musical culture of Zhuang, executive function