May a musicologist chime in here? Actually, the kind of metrical shift you suggest in your penultimate paragraph might be just the thing a non-musician would notice, even if s/he couldn’t describe or articulate the change. For example, one of the most striking aspects of the recent iTunes commercial featuring the Fratellis’s tune “Flathead” is that the whole song is in a rather relentless duple meter — everything is divided into two and four. But then when it hits the chorus, the meter unexpectedly (and, for pop music, quite uncharacteristically) changes to 7/8. In layman’s terms, this means if you’re dancing to it, or watching someone dance to it, the footfalls land in a different place — off the beat for a few seconds, then on, then off, then on. This is definitely perceptible to the non-musician, even if s/he can’t quite say what it is that makes the music so delightfull herky-jerky.
(Incidentall, when these sorts of studies are carried out by non-music-scholars, it is VERY difficult to control for variables in a way that would afford any hard conclusions about reactions to this or that particular harmonic or rhythmic perception.)
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