Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Research on Musical Gestures and their Effects on Audience Perception

There is an extremely enlightening article in the latest edition of Percussive Notes (The Journal of the Percussive Arts Society) about the use of gestures and their effect on the Audience's perception of acoustic properties. Basically, studies have been done at Northwestern University in Illinois that prove that while gestures don't change the acoustic value of notes they do change the audience's perception of the notes. Bachelor of Music students who are not percussionist's were subjected to an experiment in which they watched and listened to the striking of single marimba notes with different attack and release gestures (Short vs. Long). Though the students were told to ignore the gestures they were ultimately unable to. The subjects were also informed that what they watched and the sound that they heard may have been mixed up from actual performances (which they sometimes were....though the sounds are acoustically identical whether the gesture is long or short...) and that they were therefore expected to judge only the length of the note based on aural perception. The data shows that the long gestures produced the perception of much longer notes to the young musicians. Pretty interesting stuff, which personally makes me wonder about the effects of the same test given to average audience members. Would the lines drift much further?
The effect is compared in the article to optical illusions such as the Ebbinghaus Illusion (shown above) or the Muller-Lyer Illusion, which famously trick the mind into thinking that two objects are different in size based on their individual surroundings when in fact they are identical. The author then goes even deeper into the mixing and matching of human senses to create our overall perception referencing surround-sound movie theaters and multiple scholarly articles on cognition, musical perception, and percussion performance. The findings show that whether the gestures actually change the sound or not, they do change the audiences perception greatly and therefore should be considered in performance practices. So, yes, Pete Townshend is a freakin' genius....


  1. Aonhter vsiaul ticrk- if the fsirt lteter and the lsat leettr in a wrod are crecrot you can mses up the mldide lretets and msot poelpe will ustdnrenad waht you wtrie.

  2. Pretty Cool. Its fun to check out your blog and know that you check mine, too. I am very interested in cognition and perception. The human mind is a quirky worm. Thanks for stopping by to share, Mr. Don.