SHERWIN, Kevin: In What Circumstances do Listeners Perceive Performers’ Rubato to be Unmusical?

Wikis > Final Projects > SHERWIN, Kevin: In What Circumstances do Listeners Perceive Performers’ Rubato to be Unmusical?

Kevin Sherwin

Prof. Poudrier

Independent Research Project Proposal

In what circumstances do listeners perceive performers’ rubato to be unmusical?

            Prior research in music perception has explored the microtimings of musicians’ performances. Microtiming refers to the exact placement in time of a notated rhythm. Deviations in microtiming from the exact temporal proportions indicated in the musical score, also known as rubato, often serve as a means of expressive variation for the interpreter. In “A Model of Expressive Timing in Tonal Music,” Todd develops a generalized theory explaining how performers perform produce rubato in structurally important areas of music, such as at the end of phrases (Todd 1985). In other studies, such as “Musicians and Nonmusicians’ Assessment of Perceived Rubato in Musical Performance,” Johnson studies the listeners’ perception of performers attempts at musical vs. nonmusical interpretations. Following from this past research, I am interested in how listeners perceive different types of microtimings. More specifically, I propose the question, “In what circumstances do listeners perceive performers’ rubato to be unmusical?”

The investigation of the circumstances under which performers’ deviations in microtiming from the exact temporal location of the note onsets as indicated in the score are perceived to be unmusical bears importance for the musicians, music psychologists, and cognitive scientists. This research could reveal the situations in which it is perceived to be unmusical to take excessive rubato, informing the musical performers’ use of rubato in his or her interpretation of a score. Finding circumstances under which certain executions of rubato are unmusical could also contribute to a generalized theory of expressive timing that listeners do perceive to be musical. In addition, In “A Model of Expressive Timing in Tonal Music,” Todd mentions how Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s theory concerning the hierarchal organization of music is analogous to the linguistic theories of Chomsky. In this way, my research on the perception of unmusical microtimings could point to further research questions regarding in what circumstances are microtimings in speech perceived to be unintelligible.

Annotated Bibliography

1.            Johnson, C. M. (1996). “Musicians’ and Nonmusicians’ Assessment of Perceived Rubato in Musical Performance.” Journal of Research in Music Education 44 (1). 84-96.

(retrieved from JSTOR)

This study is useful to my research because it indicates that I would have to use only musicians as participants because nonmusicians do no reliably give consistent feedback regarding different kinds of rubato. The study also indicates that there exist certain kinds of rubato that are perceived to be inappropriate and others that are perceived to be musical: the defining factor between what makes a rubato musical is what my research will investigate.

2.             Johnson, C. M. (2003). “Effect of Rubato Magnitude on the Perception of Musicianship in Musical Performance.” Journal of Research in Music Education 51 (2), 115-123.

(retrieved from JSTOR)

This study shows the cases in which excessive rubato that is based on an original model of musical rubato is perceived to be inappropriate, demonstrating that certain types of rubato are perceived to be inappropriate. In my study, I would like to explore the variations in microtimings that are not based on the original model of musical rubato to investigate further possibilities of musical rubato.

3.            Todd, N. (1985). “A Model of Expressive Timing in Tonal Music.” Music Perception 3 (1), 33-58.

(retrieved from Google Scholar)

From Todd’s work in how a duration structure can be generated from the musical structure of a piece of music, I will be able to better understand the possibilities for microtimings that constitute a musically appropriate rubato. From this understanding, I will be able to construct microtiming patterns that violate the theoretical model for a musical rubato to investigate whether or not these microtiming patterns are actually perceived to be inappropriate or nonmusical.

 

Literature Review for “In what circumstances do listeners perceive performers’ structural microtimings at the end of phrases to be unmusical?”

            Prior research in music perception has explored the microtimings of musicians’ performances. Microtiming refers to the exact placement in time of a notated rhythm. Deviations in microtiming from the exact temporal proportions indicated in the musical score often serve as a means of expressive variation for the interpreter. In “A Model of Expressive Timing in Tonal Music,” Todd develops a generalized theory explaining how performers perform produce rubato in structurally important areas of music, such as at the end of phrases (Todd, 1985). In other studies, such as “Musicians and Nonmusicians’ Assessment of Perceived Rubato in Musical Performance,” Johnson studies the listeners’ perception of performers attempts at musical vs. nonmusical interpretations (Johnson, 1996). Following from this past research, I am interested specifically in how listeners perceive different types of structural microtimings, specifically those structural microtimings in which performers execute systematic variations at the ends of musical phrases. I propose the question, “In what circumstances do listeners perceive performers’ structural microtimings at the end of phrases to be unmusical?”

The investigation of the circumstances in which listeners perceive performers’ structural microtimings at the end of phrases to be unmusical bears importance for musicians, music psychologists, and cognitive scientists. This research could reveal the situations in which it is perceived to be unmusical to execute structural microtimings at the ends of phrases that are excessively different from the exact temporal locations of the notes as indicated by their rhythmic values, informing how musical performers execute structural variations in microtimings at the ends of phrases. Finding circumstances under which certain executions of structural microtimings are unmusical could also contribute to a generalized theory of structural microtimings at the ends of phrases that listeners do perceive to be musical. In addition, a generalized theory of structural microtimings at the ends of musical phrases that listeners perceive to be musical could parallel the phenomenon of slowing down at the end of speech phrases (Klatt, 1976), pointing toward a broader theory of listeners’ perception of microtimings that relate to both speech and music.

Prior research has addressed the ways in which performers’ deviate from the exact temporal locations indicated by the rhythmic values written in the score. For example, Palmer determined pianists’ interpretations of a musical excerpt showed the greatest tempo changes for musical events that were at the structural beginnings and ends of phrases (Palmer, 1989). Palmer also performed an experiment that asked pianists to perform a musical excerpt and indicate their musical on the score, finding that they indicated tempo changes structural phrase boundaries, similar to how they actually performed the musical excerpts (Palmer, 1989). Clarke also found that performers can accurately preserve the rhythmic distinctions in a piece of music while still executing microtimings that deviate from the exact rhythmic values on the score; performers tend to lengthen the values of notes at the end of musical figures (Clarke, 1985). Repp also showed that even student pianists perform microtimings that are comparable to famous pianists’ microtimings; an important feature of the shared microtimings is the ritardandi, or the slowing down, at the ends of phrases demonstrating that expressive timing does not require extensive study and practice of the given music, but rather only general musical and technical competence (Repp, 1995). This slowing down at the end of phrases supports Todd’s theoretical proposal that slowing down at the ends of phrases serves to act as the boundary marker between phrases (Todd, 1985). Honing even proposes that the timing of the slowing down at the very ends of performances may roughly follow the mathematical square root function, suggesting a general model in which performers slow down at the end of musical pieces (Honing, 2003). This past research has provided empirical evidence for general patterns of structural microtimings at the ends of musical phrases, supporting my research question that asks at what point do listeners perceive patterns of performers microtimings to be unmusical.

Past research has also investigated listeners’ perception of performers’ microtimings in their musical interpretations. Johnson found that only musicians were able to reliably make judgments of a performer’s musicality based on the performer’s microtimings, indicating that I would have to use only musicians as participants because nonmusicians do no reliably give consistent feedback regarding different kinds of rubato (Johnson, 1996). Todd also provides insight into the constraints on the perception of performers’ expressive microtiming, indicating that listeners can perceive microtiming as metrical or grouping parsers, contributing to the listener’s comprehension of the music (Todd, 1989). Repp investigated the constraints on listener’s perception of various microtimings by implementing a synchronized tapping paradigm: listeners were able to synchronize more accurately with more typical timing patterns than with less typical timing patterns, demonstrating that listeners’ ability to tap in synchrony with a musical performance is dependent on the specific microtimings of the performance. Clarke demonstrated that listeners are able to perceive as little as 20 ms lengthening in the context of notes lasting between 100 ms and 400 ms, showing the degree to which listeners are sensitive to differing microtimings (Clarke, 1989). Lastly, Johnson found that listeners perceived performances that had timing variations that were less than a model performance, which was created from timings found in professional performances, to be unmusical, while listeners still find as much as twice as much variation from the model performance to still be musical, suggesting that there is a range of microtimings that listeners perceive to be musical, and microtimings outside of that range are perceived to be unmusical (Johnson, 2003).

My project fits into the larger research questions involving the perception of performers’ different microtimings in that it synthesizes the theoretical approach to modeling typical microtimings for musical excerpts (Johnson, 2003) with listeners’ perception of the typical microtiming model and variations on this typical model. Theoretical models have also shown the tendency for performers to slow down at the ends of musical phrases (Palmer, 1989; Repp, 1995; Todd, 1985): my research plans to not only model how performers’ structural microtimings reflect this slowing down specifically at the ends of a phrase for a particular musical excerpt, as well as explore listeners’ perception of the musicality of these structural microtimings at the ends of phrases.