The concept Entrainment has a long history of research in many fields before it was applied in psychology and music (Clayton, Sager & Will, 2005). DeNora (2000) introduces how musical entrainment happens when individuals physically synchronize with various musical and non-musical rhythms in various age groups. The regular rhythms of an infant’s “breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat and sleep” (p. 77) all indicate the condition of his/her physical health. When the infant becomes a child and preliminarily be exposed to musical rhythm, there are more things he/she can do to synchronize it.

The relationship between rhythm and body

Music and sports

Bodily movement is one of the most common ways that almost everyone can use to synchronize or create rhythm. I still recall the most impressive experience of physically engaging in a musical activity when I was a child. It was an English-speaking class that was taught by Gail, a teacher who was from US. She was a crazy NBA (National Basketball Association) fan, just like most of us. On that day, Gail introduced NBA culture to us, with one of the song that NBA used for their theme music – We Will Rock You. She taught us to clap and stomp to synchronize with the rhythm of the song. Although it was not a music class, this experience impressed me a lot. It not only brought me rock music, but also showed to me that how amazing it would be when you are able to feel the combination of sports and music through music entrainment.

Music and languages

DeNora (2000) mentioned the rhythmic texts of rope skipping, which is related to another field – language. Besides using arms and legs to physically synchronize with music, the languages we speak is another way of bodily movement. When different languages combine with music, different forms of musical entrainment happen. For example, one of the most important literary forms, Tang Poetry[1], has been used to foster children’s awareness of linguistic rhythm for centuries. Let’s look at a Tang poem Parting in Yangguan in Chinese:




西出阳关无故人。” (Wang, n.d.)

We can easily see – even though we do not understand Chinese – that there are regularly seven characters in each sentence of the poem, which creates the rhythm that has Chinese style (this sort of poetry is also called The Seven-Character Poetry). When children are reading or reciting Tang poetry, they are linguistically synchronizing with the rhythm of the poems, and unconsciously have an initiative sense of musical entrainment. Tang poetry were commonly used as the lyrics of Chinese traditional songs in ancient China. Unfortunately, most of the songs are lost in the long history, or we should have had more resources to research, as well as teaching this poetry-music and letting students physically perceive more on it.

parting in yangguan
The picture of Parting in Yangguan

Composition: break the regularity

Music entrainment is an important way for composers to create music and regulate listeners’ moods. Musical regularity impacts human beings’ bodily entrainment, and the use of various beats is a way to create the environment, such as “Relaxation” and “Energy Workout” (DeNora, 2000, p. 91). In many media that have the war theme, breaking rhythmic regularity is a common approach for creating their background music so that listeners can feel the intensity of the theme. For example, in the theme music of World of Warcraft, after a 39-second free rhythm, the beat is suddenly transformed to 12/7 meter at 0’39’’ by the percussion, along with the rapid strings loop at 0’50’’, which create an intense mood so that the listeners can hardly sit still. At 2’03’’, the rhythm returns to Lento, bringing to another feeling to the listeners. The rhythm of this music is frequently changed, which breaks the regularity that we are physically familiar so that we can perceive the nerve of the “coming war” in the game.

Research and music teaching

Musical entrainment has its significance in researching music therapy and ethnomusicology studies. Durham University provides a well-organized guideline of the current research and projects that are related to musical entrainment they are doing. In addition, to my point of view, musical entrainment is also a concept that can be used to teach students. The Ontario Arts Curriculum mentions arts perception and nuanced fundamental concepts of “dance, drama and music” (p. 18), which is the potential to use musical entrainment into music teaching. As music educators, would it be possible if we bring musical entrainment into music curriculum and pedagogies? What if our students can sensitively perceive their bodily entrainment – through dancing, for example – with music, just like what I felt while listening to We Will Rock You? What if they know more about the cultures around the world through the combination of linguistic and musical perception? What if they can create music through what they learn about themselves, along with music, and the environment around them?

[1] Tang Poetry is a sort of poems that were written in the period of China’s Tang Dynasty (618 A.D- 907 A.D). It was considered as the Golden Time of Chinese poetry because of its characteristic of times. Nearly 50,000 poems written by 2200 authors were compiled. Tang Poetry still is taught in Chinese class in Chinese schools today.


Clayton, M., Sager, R., & Will, U. (2005, January). In time with the music: the concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. In European meetings in ethnomusicology. (Vol. 11, pp. 1-82). Romanian Society for Ethnomusicology. Retrieved from

DeNora, T. (2000). Music in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Durham University. Interpersonal entrainment in music performance. [Web log post] Music & science lab. Retrieved from

Durham University. Music & science lab. [Web log]. Retrieved from

Mind-Full Music (2014, April). What is rhythmic entrainment? And why is it important in music therapy? Part 1 of 4. [Web log post] Music therapy services. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education (2009). The Ontario curriculum grades 1-8: the arts. Retrieved from

Queen Official (2008, August 1). “Queen – We Will Rock You (Official Video)” [YouTube]. Project: Music. Retrieved from

Wang, W. (n.d.). Parting in Yangguan.

Will, U. (2012). European meetings in ethnomusicology. Retrieved from

404 – Time not found (2008, November 14). “World of Warcraft Soundtrack – Wrath of the Lich King Main Title” [YouTube]. Project: Music. Retrieved from


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