There is a range of tempos within which listeners can identify familiar tunes (around 0.8 to 6.0 notes/s). Faster and slower tunes are difficult to identify. The authors assessed fast and slow melody-identification thresholds for 80 listeners ages 17–79 years with expertise varying from musically untrained to professional. On fast-to-slow (FS) trials the tune started at a very fast tempo and slowed until the listener identified it. Slow-to-fast (SF) trials started slow and accelerated. Tunes either retained their natural rhythms or were stylized isochronous versions. Increased expertise led to better performance for both FS and SF thresholds (r = .45). Performance declined uniformly across the 62-year age range in the FS condition (r = .27). SF performance was unaffected by age. Although early encoding processes may slow with age, expertise has a greater effect. Musical expertise involves perceptual learning with melodies at a wide range of tempos.
Psychology and Aging
Andrews, M.W.; Dowling, W.J.; Bartlett, J.C.; and Halpern, Andrea. "Identification of speeded and slowed familiar melodies by younger, middle-aged, and older musicians and nonmusicians." Psychology and Aging (1998) : 462-471.