Moving to Music While Performing

Exp Brain Res 2013 Feb 8
Temporal guidance of musicians’ performance movement is an acquired skill

Rodger MW, O’Modhrain S, Craig CM
School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast, David Keir Building, 18-30 Malone Road, Belfast, BT9 5BN, UK.

The ancillary (non-sounding) body movements made by expert musicians during performance have been shown to indicate expressive, emotional, and structural features of the music to observers, even if the sound of the performance is absent. If such ancillary body movements are a component of skilled musical performance, then it should follow that acquiring the temporal control of such movements is a feature of musical skill acquisition. This proposition is tested using measures derived from a theory of temporal guidance of movement, “General Tau Theory” (Lee in Ecol Psychol 10:221-250, 1998; Lee et al. in Exp Brain Res 139:151-159, 2001), to compare movements made during performances of intermediate-level clarinetists before and after learning a new piece of music. Results indicate that the temporal control of ancillary body movements made by participants was stronger in performances after the music had been learned and was closer to the measures of temporal control found for an expert musician’s movements. These findings provide evidence that the temporal control of musicians’ ancillary body movements develops with musical learning. These results have implications for other skillful behaviors and nonverbal communication.

Upcoming Guest Lecture

“Disjuncture and Continuity in Verses of Rap”
Mitchell Ohriner
(Shenandoah Conservatory)

Thursday, March 7, 4:30 PM, Stoeckel 106

Abstract & Bio:

In recent studies of popular music by Lawrence Zbikowski and others, a distinction is made between two performance forces: a collection of players whose combined patterns of pitch and rhythm constitute a groove, and one or more soloists who play against this groove. Rap music can be viewed through this prism as well: the “players” constituting the groove are often preexisting samples or electronically generated parts, and the rapper creates verses against this groove. But many rappers seek to reinforce the groove by fashioning patterns of rhythm, rhyme, and syllabic stress that complement the preexisting instrumental groove. At the same, constraints of rhyme and text encourage multiple such patterns to be presented within a single verse. This multiplicity of vocal grooves, in contrast to the invariance of the instrumental groove, draws attention to the boundaries of successive vocal patterns. This paper compares the delivery of two different rappers, Marshall Mathers (aka Eminem) and Antwan André Patton (aka Big Boi) in terms of the salience of these boundaries between vocal patterns. Whereas Patton works to smooth these boundaries over, drawing continuity over an entire verse, Mathers uses abrupt disjunctures of vocal delivery to highlight disjunctures of tense and affect in his personae. In order to document these vocal patterns, several analytical methods are also presented, including the annotation of onset and volume in spoken language and the plotting of performed durations against the meter.

Mitch Ohriner is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Shenandoah Conservatory. He completed M.M. and Ph.D. in music theory at Indiana University and holds a B.M. in music composition from the University of Colorado at Boulder. His primary scholarly interests lie at the intersection of performance, analysis, and cognition, topics he has explored in his dissertation, “Durational Contours and Enacted Meaning in Recorded Performances of the Music of Chopin.” At regional, national, and international conferences he has presented work on these and other topics as diverse as the social contexts of Mozart piano concertos, rhythmic perception in Bartks music, and issues of agency in Schuberts piano sonatas. Collaboration and scholarly community building are at the center of his concerns, and while at Indiana he coauthored a study on the influence of timbre on melodic dictation outcomes and organized a two-day conference on performance and analysis that brought together performers, musicologists, and music theorists.
Mitchell Ohriner’s article “Grouping Hierarchy and Trajectories of Pacing in Performances of Chopins Mazurkas” has been published in Music Theory Online. He also contributed to the International Symposium on Performance Science 2011 (Toronto, Canada).

Tempo variations in recordings

Hey all,

Ran across an interesting article today on tempo variation in recordings, which can be found here: The author sought to find out which bands tend to use click tracks (metronome clicks fed through headphones into the drummer’s ears) to maintain a steady tempo throughout a recording and which prefer not to. He created a computer script that first computed the average beats per minute throughout the song and then tracked the deviations from that average over time. It’s pretty clear which groups use click tracks and which don’t. I think this does a great job of highlighting just how much natural variation in tempo performers create on their own, and also brings up a bit of confusion for me. Assuming that the non-click-track groups intended to keep a steady beat, why is it that we have such difficulty maintaining a steady beat on our own? If entrainment is a reflection of internal neural oscillations, why is it that we have so much trouble maintaining regularity in the frequency of these oscillations? (Perhaps London discusses this, and I missed it?)

(Side note: the author also includes a link to an app he created where you can input your own favorite songs and see if they use a click track. Pretty neat!)

Janata Lab, UC Davis

The Janata Lab at the University of California, Davis focuses on three broad projects.

One project looks into the relationships between music, memory and emotion.  This has led them to investigate music-evoked nostalgia and music-evoked autobiographical memories, as well as the effect of music on Alzheimer’s patients.

Their “Groove Project” is aimed at “understand[ing] the psychology and neuroscience behind the somewhat ephemeral concept and potent musical experience of being ‘in the groove.'”

Their “Musical Spaces” project is aimed at understanding the movement within what they define as the three great musical spaces: tonal, temporal and timbral.  They use quantitative descriptions of how music moves in these spaces, which can be manifested in computer animations, to figure out what parts of the brain track these changes.

Music and the Mind Lab at Vanderbilt University

Led by Dr. Elisabeth Dykens, the Music and the Mind laboratory at Vanderbilt has a wide variety of interests, but primarily conducts research regarding music processing in people with developmental disabilities and ERP studies on the relationship between music, musical expectancy, and language processing. Other areas of interest include the relationship between studying music and heightened creativity and therapeutic qualities of music (for neonatal infants or for people with dementia). This laboratory is one of the only labs in the world that studies the connection between music and Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to an interesting blend of cognitive impairment, strong social skills, and an immense affinity for music. Its studies are conducted on young adults with Williams Syndrome during a one-week music camp at the university.

Participate in a rhythm study!

Make money for listening to rhythms!

If you’d like to sign up for this psych study, simply click on the weblink, then type in your name and click on one of the available slots and hit “Save” — that’s it!

Experiment name:         “Rhythmic Perception in Sight and Sound”
Dates available:              02/16-02/20
Weblink to signup:
Experiment description: Ever wondered how famous composers are able to manipulate our senses to intentionally create different musical encounters? This study investigates how the perception of rhythms may play a role in moulding both auditory and visual experiences. Composers may essentially be unknowing cognitive scientists, tapping into cognitive systems that we are now finally beginning to unravel.
Experimenter name:      Julian De Freitas
Experimenter email:       julian.defreitas(AT)
Experimenter phone:     203-503-4096
Experiment location:      SSS (College st. x Grove st.), room 312-D
Subject requirements:    At least 18 years of age. Must not have taken part in the very same experiment before.
Duration:                         40 minutes
Payment:                         $10

Laboratory of Andrea R. Halpern, Ph.D., Bucknell University

Andrea R. Halpern’s research focuses on projects related to memory, cognitive aging, and music cognition. Her work specifically related to music cognition includes studying implicit memory for music, auditory imagery, environmental sounds, the functioning of musical experts, everyday musical experiences and senior citizens’ memory for music. Dr. Halpern is the 2012-2013 President of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition.

“Dr. Halpern studies cognitive processes such as memory and thinking, especially for nonverbal materials. Of particular interest to her is how musicians and nonmusicians understand and remember music. One recent project was an investigation of auditory imagery, or what is happening when you “hear a tune inside your head.” She has studied this using the traditional tools of experimental psychology, as well as with cognitive neuroscience techniques. She is also interested in how both normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease affect how people learn and remember music.”

Music Cognition Group, Universiteit Van Amsterdam

The Music Cognition group at the University of Amsterdam (Universiteit Van Amsterdam) focuses on melody and rhythm research. The 4 main questions they seek to explore are:

“1. What is shared (and what unique) in music versus language processing?

2. What are the music structural and cognitive components that contribute to the memory, recall and transmission of melodies?

3. What are the cognitive and biological building blocks of musicality?

4. What are the cognitive mechanisms and neurological correlates of rhythm perception?”


What interests me the most, from having seen some research about rhythm so far this semester and continuing as we read more and more, is the last question. One abstract I read that was particularly intriguing concerned a study by Henkjan Honing in which he discovered that Rhesus monkeys do not have the same rhythmic entrainment as humans (and a few species of birds) do. This supports the vocal learning hypothesis, that entrainment is a byproduct of learning to produce music vocally.

Here’s the article!

(“Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) Detect Rhythmic Groups in Music, but Not the Beat” by Henkjan Honing et al.).

Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory of Ohio State University

This website is the online home of the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory led by Prof. David Huron of Ohio State University. Some highlights of their work includes a study concerning a listener’s knowledge gained from brief musical excerpts, as well as a project that studies that average spectrum ofl timbre of orchestral instrument tones.

Online Study on Music-Evoked Sadness

The study:
ere is broad disagreement among listeners about the capacity of sad music to evoke pleasure and it is still not clear whether or not the enjoyment of sad music depends by personal and/or contextual factors. The goal of this study is to shed light on the socalled “paradox of pleasant sadness” by looking at possible positive effects of sadness evoked by music and at their relationship with individual differences and contextual factors.

The survey is in English and should only take about 15 minutes.

The following link will take you to the questionnaire:

Contact with any queries.