Step in time: Musical ensemble coordination in cross-cultural settings

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“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal”; an eloquent start to Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, but also an apt summary of a model too often assumed in modern psychology research. Generalised claims regarding human behaviour are based almost exclusively on studies sampling WEIRD societies – Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies.

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Figure 1. Participant demographics from meta-analysis. Source: Jakubowski, 2016

During her talk entitled “Musical ensemble coordination in ecological and cross-cultural settings” at Goldsmiths, University of London, Dr Kelly Jakubowski introduces the demographic breakdown of participants from a selection of 97 studies on the effects of background music. She describes that 37% of the studies use a sample of “undergraduate students” and 29% of the studies use a sample of “university students”, totalling more than 60% of the sample pool being drawn from higher education establishments, as shown in Figure 1. From her selection, studies relating to music and synchrony (the field in which Dr Jakubowski is currently conducting her research) make bold claims such as ‘In a world rife with isolation, the aligned representations in interpersonal synchrony may provide a means for togetherness and connection.’, (Hove & Risen, 2009). But with participants sampled from such a narrow demographic, how can such claims be substantiated across societies and cultures?

Dr Jakubowski, along with colleagues at Durham university, is researching Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance (IEMP), which explores how people coordinate movements in time to perform music together. From a Western classical symphony orchestra to a South Indian carnatic music ensemble, all musicians utilise interpersonal entrainment (the timing coordination between individuals) to create a cohesive musical performance. However, different patterns of coordination and levels of synchrony are used across cultures and musical styles. How levels of asynchrony in musical performance affects aesthetic judgement is a topic of debate. Ethnomusicologist Charles Keil argues that for music to be meaningful and involving for listeners, it must be “out of time” and “out of tune” (a phenomenon he describes as “participatory discrepancy”), perhaps because this suggests a relatable element of human error. However, this view is contested by perceptual studies (e.g. Senn et al., 2016) which show that participants actually preferred as much synchrony as possible in musical performance.

The team at Durham University are currently studying both audio and visual coordination in musical performance across cultures, including Indian classical music, Malian Djembe, jazz, Tunisian Stambeli, and Cuban dance music. The research into audio coordination involves studying synchronicity of instruments using sound onset detection. In addition to this, their phase relationship in measured, indicating which instrument leads or follows another. An interesting finding is that the variability of asynchrony between a drummed instrument and plucked instrument (such as a guitar) decreases as the note density increases, i.e. the faster the music, the more out of sync the instruments. This in contrast to asynchrony between two drummed instruments, which remains constant regardless of the speed of the music.

 

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Figure 2. Validation study comparing Video and Motion Capture Data. Source: Jakubowski et al., 2017

Ancillary movements are those made by performers which are not directly related to sound production. These movements are critical to musical ensemble coordination, and are the focus of the visual research by the team at Durham. Sound-producing movements occur over a timescale of milliseconds, and so can only be captured by specialist Motion Capture systems which have a temporal resolution of 120 – 160 frames per second. Ancillary movements, on the other hand, occur over a much longer timescale of seconds, such that standard video recording (with a frame rate of 25 – 30 fps) can be used to record these. Current motion capture systems deliver high definition data, but are most often constrained to a laboratory environment, due to the nature of the fixed camera sensors required for data collection. These systems are not particularly useful for field work where conditions are rarely under the researcher’s full control, and data must usually be collected promptly in an occasionally less than ideal situation. The miniaturisation of camera sensors over the last 10 years has allowed researchers to work in the field and collect high quality video footage, in this case of ensembles performing together, and bring this back to the lab for analysis. One might imagine that for movement tracking, data from a Motion Capture system would far outperform that from a standard video extraction. However, a validation study conducted by Dr Jakubowski’s team (as shown in Figure 2) reported high correlations of .75 to .94 between the output of the two systems, suggesting that data extracted from video field recordings can be used to accurately track these ancillary movements.

During this validation study, the team analysed movement data from a collection of 30 videos of duos improvising in a controlled environment, and extracted an aggregate measure (the Cross-wavelet Transform) which is related to periods of peak movement between the two performers. They then compared this with a panel of expert musicians’ indications of visual interaction between the performers in the videos, aiming to validate this measure as a quantitative predictor of the experts’ qualitative indications. 72% of the periods of interaction could be predicted using just this CWT measure, a result which increased to over 90% when more specific frequency bands were added. With this new quantitative predictor, Jakubowski and colleagues were able to collect field video recordings from other cultures and perform movement tracking and analysis, to compare how patterns of movement coordination emerge as a function of other performance attributes (such as musical style, structure, metre, and performer hierarchy).

The second area of research for the IEMP team is synchrony and entrainment perception by listeners. Humans are able to distinguish the onset of two sounds as distinct with a separation as short as just 2 milliseconds. For the listener to correctly identify which sound preceded the other, a minimum separation of 15 – 20 milliseconds is required. This latter judgement can however be affected by a common perceptual bias related to cultural instrumental hierarchy and roles, such as the assumption that a melody instrument will “lead” before an accompanying one. The IEMP team are looking into factors which affect this asynchrony perception, as it is an important part of a listener’s evaluation of performance quality and engagement. In one study, participants were exposed to audio visual recordings of improvising duos and asked to rate the synchrony of the performers (how “together” they felt the performance was). Their results show that clips which the participants rated as high in synchrony had high spectral flux (a measure of number of events in time, or ‘complexity’) in low-frequency sub-bands, a quality generally related to ratings of rhythmic strength and musical groove.

A cross culture field study was undertaken by the team, to investigate aesthetic judgement and discrimination of temporally adjusted recordings of Western jazz, Malian djembe and Uruguayan candombe music. This found a perhaps unsurprising preference across cultures for asynchrony minimisation. Interestingly however, participants in the UK listening to Malian djembe music (which is naturally non-isochronous) preferred an isochronous variant, whereas Malians preferred the non-isochronous original, and were able to better discriminate between micro adjustment of metric subdivision in their own music than music from other societies. This is perhaps because this non-isochronous rhythm is more culturally engrained than in other participants.

Though Dr Jakubowski’s work is ongoing, preliminary results clearly indicate that across cultures and societies, people’s perceptions and preference for musical features are not uniform. Differences in asynchrony and entrainment have no doubt contributed to the plethora of distinct musical styles which have developed around the world. Establishing awareness about these differences in perception is an important step towards addressing them in wider research. This in turn may help us better understand the variations that are being observed, in terms of where and how they may arise.

 

Frederick Taylor

 

References:

Burger, B., Ahokas, R., Keipi, A., & Toiviainen, P. (2013). Relationships between spectral flux, perceived rhythmic strength, and the propensity to move. In R. Bresin (Ed.), Proceedings of the Sound and Music Computing Conference 2013, SMC 2013, Stockholm, Sweden (pp. 179-184). Berlin: Logos Verlag Berlin. Retrieved from http://smcnetwork.org/node/1828

Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. doi:10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Hirsh, I. J. (1959). Auditory perception of temporal order. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 31(6), 759-767. doi:10.1121/1.1907782

Jakubowski, K. (2016, September 30). How Weird is music psychology? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://musicscience.net/2016/09/30/weird-music-psychology/

Jakubowski, K., Eerola, T., Alborno, P., Volpe, G., Camurri, A., & Clayton, M. (2017). Extracting Coarse Body Movements from Video in Music Performance: A Comparison of Automated Computer Vision Techniques with Motion Capture Data. Frontiers in Digital Humanities, 4(9). doi:10.3389/fdigh.2017.00009

Keil, C. (1987). Participatory Discrepancies and the Power of Music. Cultural Anthropology, 2, 275–283. doi:10.1525/can.1987.2.3.02a00010

Hove, M. J., & Risen J. L. (2009). It’s All in the Timing: Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Affiliation. Social Cognition, 27(6), 949-960. doi:10.1521/soco.2009.27.6.949

Senn, O., Kilchenmann, L., von Georgi, R., & Bullerjahn, C. (2016). The Effect of Expert Performance Microtiming on Listeners’ Experience of Groove in Swing or Funk Music. Frontiers in Psychology7, 1487. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01487

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‘Dynamite in my ears’ – The Exceptional Musicality of some Individuals with Autism

Can people who struggle with speech be exceptional musicians? What does this have to do with autism? Professor Adam Ockelford, Director of the Applied Music Research Centre at the Roehampton University in London provided explanations to these questions in his talk at Goldsmiths University of London in November 2017.

Firstly, let’s define autism. As Prof. Ockelford proposed, imagine listening to the radio in an unfamiliar language that you cannot turn off. Imagine seeing through a stained-glass window, broken and glued together again in a random way. Autism is a developmental spectrum condition, influencing how people perceive the world and communicate with others. It affects approximately 1/100 children in the UK (The National Autistic Society, 2017). Children with so-called ‘classic’ autism often have little or even no speech. In ‘Asperger’ Syndrome language is not affected. People with autism have fragmentary perception (e.g., the stained glass), and seem to pay more attention to details than to the whole. The drawings of Stephen Wiltshire re-create highly detailed landscapes. Remarkably, rather than first sketching an outline, Stephen makes his way from one end of the canvas to the other in painstaking detail.

Wiltshire

(Wiltshire, 2016)

Autistic people have a love for pattern and predictability. In that sense, it becomes easy to see why these individuals may have social and communication deficits: after all, humans are nothing if not unpredictable. Furthermore, Prof. Ockelford explained how these individuals have difficulty understanding the emotions of others (cf. ‘Theory of Mind’), which makes socialising a huge challenge.

 

Prof. Ockelford (2013) suggests that the developmental trajectories of music and language, which generally evolve together, can possibly diverge in some children on the autism spectrum, causing a delay in language understanding and use. These behavioural differences make autistic children perceive the world in more perceptual and musical ways; for example an early fascination with everyday sounds and objects (e.g. a microwave). It is interesting to note that such sounds are musical, producing pitches, tones and comprising different colours and harmonics (Ockelford, 2013). This is, as suggested by Prof. Ockelford (2013), one of the outcomes of an Exceptional Early Cognitive Environment. In other words, certain sounds do not acquire wider meaning or functional significance, but are instead processed purely in terms of their sonic qualities – in musical terms.

This strong and early detail-oriented connection with music may be the reason why such a large number of children on the autism spectrum possess absolute pitch: 1 in 20 within the autistic population compared with 1 in 10,000 in the western societies. As defined by Takeuchi and Hulse (1993), absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to identify or produce a pure tone at a particular pitch, without the use of an external reference pitch (e.g. piano).

Prof. Ockelford observes that the ability to recognise and sing a tone (in autism AP cases), generally comes before any theoretical aspects of music (naming notes, scales, etc.), and can be independent of language. A video was shown in which Freddie, an autistic student aged 10 at that time, was asked to reproduce a small melody on the piano. Surprisingly, instead of playing the notes on the piano, he sang them, barely brushing the piano keys. The music seemed to have sounded in his head, negating the need for him to actually play the instrument. As Prof. Ockelford reminds us “The vivid nature of perception – crucial for our functioning and survival – beguiles us into thinking that music exists beyond ourselves in a material way.” (Ockelford, 2017, p. 61).

comparingNotes

 

Prof. Ockelford’s latest book Comparing Notes (2017) is an excellent resource for understanding the history of his work. It’s extremely well researched, and discusses many aspects of how we (both on and off the spectrum) derive meaning from the fuzziness that is music. Through his work with Derek Paravicini, diagnosed as having ‘classical’ autism, he discovered that Derek’s process of imitation led to agency, to musical structure, to music making sense. Derek is acclaimed as one of the greatest musical ‘savants’ ever to have lived. You can watch the amazing Ted talk featuring both Prof. Ockelford and Derek here: https://youtu.be/3S1HK7LQY2I

Prof. Ockelford commented that music cannot be cynical. It is innocent, a pure method of communication, which is thought to far precede the language we use today. The children he works with are always fun, excited and still hit the ceiling with pleasure when much loved chords and phrases are presented to them time and time again. Classical musicians alike visit and spend time playing with the Professor’s students. This includes MSc Music, Mind and Brain students whom he encourages to get in touch and participate. Blowing the cobwebs off their perhaps grey palettes, which after years of playing in familiar circles, could greatly benefit from the addition of fresh and brighter colour.

A collaboration of this nature was alluded to in the talk with a young girl named Romy. A lover of Bach, music is Romy’s language of communication and her humorous character was conveyed through purposefully playing the ‘wrong notes’ to avoid interaction with early piano teachers. In this way, music becomes a proxy language for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Children like Romy are extremely musically advanced, having the ability to transpose mid-piece and, in Romy’s case, communicate her disapproval through playing notes in the most opposed tonality to the original key. The shift in pattern allows Romy to portray her colourful personality in the most complex way that is astounding to most advanced musicians.

AdamRomy.png

 

So what were Prof. Ockelford’s concluding thoughts? The fundamental idea is that through the repetition of words and sounds from our surrounding environment, both language and everyday sounds can be processed as music. The early cognitive environment of a child on the autistic spectrum is a complex one, however it is our responsibility to understand the message these remarkable individuals convey, not vice versa!

Catherine Smyth, Luca Kiss, Patrick Reis, & Simon Andrew Whitton

References

The National Autistic Society (2017). Autism. Retrieved from http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/asd.aspx

Wiltshire, S. (2016). Cologne, Germany. Retrieved 18th November 2017 from: http://stephenwiltshire.co.uk/art_gallery.aspx?Id=7953

Ockelford, A. (2013). Music, language and autism. 1st ed. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 211-215.

Ockelford, A. (2017). Comparing Notes : How we make sense of music. Profile Books LTD: London
Takeuchi, A. H., & Hulse, S. H. (1993). Absolute pitch. Psychological Bulletin, 113(2), 345-361.

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Music Psychology Research in the Field

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(Photos: https://www.minutemanbristol.com/products/literature/music-score-printing/; https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/499266308682233482/; https://mymodernmet.com/surreal-world-25-photos/)

“Music is something we all do, and we can all speak about it”

Dr Alexandra Lamont’s powerful statement above was the spine of her presentation. Since the emergence of the discipline of music psychology in the 1950s, until the 1980s, the vast majority of research studies were heavily influenced by the cognitive approach, and carried out on populations with formal musical training. Unsurprisingly, theories of Western music led the experiments, frequently carried out under controlled laboratory conditions, influenced by the early methods of experimental psychology (Wilhelm Wundt, 1832-1920). Thus, following the path of William James (another key figure in modern psychology), it became increasingly necessary to understand what people do with music and what it means to them in everyday life. This is the focus of Dr Lamont’s research.

Lamont explained how since the 80s, researchers aimed to explore findings in the cognitive domain using infants and children, as well as less musically trained populations and non-Western music cultures. They made interesting insights into human responses and the powerful print of musical enculturation (Trehub, Shellenberg & Kamenetsky, 1999). As a result, the neuroscientific approach developed widely from the 90s, using implicit measures to work out differences between people with and without musical training. A more naturalistic view: the interactive approach, was developed in parallel and was applied by Lamont, aiming to understand how children respond to music while playing exploratory and interactive musical tasks. Yet, in the last ten years, research has been mostly lab-based (Tirovolas & Levitin, 2011), and heavily influenced by cognitive experimental psychology.

In the following, we walk through some different directions of qualitative research in music psychology, focusing on people’s narrative experiences of music, their everyday life experiences and the effect of these on their music perception.

 

  • Turn to Narrative 

Lamont introduced us to the first of three possible approaches to music psychology qualitative research – the narrative. This essentially refers to the ability to verbalise your predisposition to a subject, in this case: music. But do untrained musicians possess the appropriate vocabulary to do this? Wolpert (2000) found that only 40% of non-musicians were able to differentiate a transposed accompaniment of a song from the original while 60% struggled to detect anything at all. Nevertheless, Lamont assured us that a lack of musical vocabulary does not stop musical conversations from happening.

Music can actually be a great ice-breaker, allowing strangers to become acquainted (Rentfrow & Gosling, 2006). And semi-structured interviews have offered Greasley, Lamont & Sloboda (2013) a deeper insight into the effects of engagement and participants’ ability to talk about their own music collections at length. A rare few who were less engaged had greater difficulty articulating what music meant to them more personally. Lamont’s own interests in similar research developed towards qualitatively interviewing those who weren’t particularly musically active. Musical participation will never be limited to trained musicians. She mentioned Gabrielsson’s (2011) Strong Experiences of Music project (SEM), which asked participants:

Write about your strongest and most intense experience of music. 

No mention of emotion, no instructions more detailed than that – complete narrative freedom. As a result, there was expected feedback (‘it was not until they played one particular song … that the intensity of their music hit me.’) … some less expected … (‘The intensity also left quickly, but in general my mood changed in a positive way.’) … and others completely unexpected, to say the least… (‘[I made] a conscious decision to end my relationship … the song and mood had such a profound effect on me.’)

  

  • Turn to Everyday 

In today’s age, music can be heard frequently in daily life, e.g. at home, in shops, restaurants, etc, and can induce certain moods but also exist in the background of your main activities. Yet it differs from the emotional and sentimental associations of a piece of music or a music concert, for example. Studies show that music is widely used to simply pass time (Greasley & Lamont, 2011). With the fast growing awareness of how music surrounds the general public, more in-depth research is needed to reveal the mechanisms through which everyday music affects emotional wellbeing.

Some studies (Sloboda, 2010) believe that the purpose of studying music listening in everyday life is to explore the ways in which listening experiences induce emotions and condition individuals. According to Sloboda (2010), everyday music is widely encountered but often forgettable. However, the majority of people experience daily life with music in various genres and also in different places and technological enhancements (e.g. iPods, iPhones, etc.) have furthered possible methodology. Using automated text messages, Greasley & Lamont (2011) revealed that there are two types of listeners: less engaged and highly engaged listeners, and both differ on how they choose their music and for how many hours they listen. The former tend to listen for an average of 12 hours per week, less likely to self-select their music, and more likely to use music out of habit or to feel less lonely. The latter is decidedly the opposite with average listening existing around 21 hours per week, with self-chosen music to create a certain atmosphere for themselves. Music is clearly pervasive, and exists to fulfill numerous purposes in day-to-day living.

 

  • Turn to Context

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(Photo: http://www.inspectorinsight.com/context/context-matters/)

Finally, Lamont turned our focus onto real-life context and its effects on music perception. The way people perceive, form and give meaning to their everyday experiences occur due to a complex web of interactions between stimuli and the environment in which they exist. Although context effects have been a known factor in cognitive psychology for many years (McClelland, 1991), investigating music perception in naturalistic conditions and not entirely artificial ones – like in laboratories – have offered great opportunities for deeper insights into the way people perceive their lived musical experiences.

Such studies in cognitive psychology are quite limited, however Lamont presented some noticeable ones, evidently influenced by theories of phenomenology and ethnographic methods in order to highlight the possible methodological approaches of natural context’s impact on cognitive processes. For example, North & Hargreaves (1996) asked people to discuss on the “where”, “when”, “with whom” and “why” of their musical experiences, whilst Groarke & Hogan (2016), generated a model associating functions of music listening with wellbeing, by asking a small number of people to reflect on the ways in which they engaged with music in different settings and compared them by age. More recently, Lamont, et al. (2017) pursued a case study of an older people’s choir, by exploiting qualitative research methods; i.e. interviews, observation, focus groups and participatory discussions. The study found that social relationships, meaning and accomplishment were the main reasons why older people chose to be part of this community choir (Lamont et al., 2017).  Moreover, for a recent project aiming to delve into the festival experience, Lamont herself employed participant-observation-methods by attending the event, and in doing so, literally put “psychology in the field” into practice.

Whilst there will always be drawbacks, such as the inability to gain full control over research conditions, there are new doors that technological developments are opening for the future. Music constantly surrounds us, and by being able to get as close to the phenomenon as we can, we gain invaluable insight. But of course, balance is the key. As Dr Lamont phrased it: we need William James as much as Wilhelm Wundt!

 

Written by: Ahmad Bin Abdul Latiff, Aspasia Papadimitriou, María Sánchez Moreno, and Sarah Hashim

 

REFERENCES

Gabrielsson, A. (2011). Strong experiences with music: Music is much more than just music. Oxford: Oxford University Press (translation of Gabrielsson, A., 2008, Starka musikupplevelser – Musik är mycket mer än bara music, Hedemora: Gidlunds).

Greasley, A. E., & Lamont, A. (2011). Exploring engagement with music in everyday life using experience sampling methodology. Musicae Scientiae, 15(1), 45-71.

Greasley, A. E., Lamont, A., & Sloboda, J. A. (2013). Exploring musical preferences: An in-depth study of adults’ liking for music in their personal 
collections. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 10(4), 402-427

Groarke, J. M., & Hogan, M.J. (2016). Enhancing wellbeing: An emerging model of the adaptive functions of music listening. Psychology of Music, 44(4), 769–791. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735615591844

Lamont, A., Murray,    M., Hale, R. & Wright-Bevans, K. (2017). Singing in later life: the anatomy of a community choir. Psychology of Music. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0305735617715514.

McClelland, J. L. (1991). Stochastic interactive processes and the effect of context on perception. Cognitive Psychology, 23(1), 1-44. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0285(91)90002-6

North, A.C. & Hargreaves, D.J. (1996). The effects of music on responses to a dining area, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16, 55-64. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1006/jevp.1996.0005

Rentfrow, P. J. & Gosling, S. D. (2006). Message in a ballad: The role of musical preferences in interpersonal perception. Psychological Science, 17(3), 236-242.

Sloboda, J. (2010). Music in everyday life: the role of emotions. Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, Applications, 493-514. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284331015_Music_in_everyday_life_The_role_of_emotions.

Tirovolas, A., & Levitin, Daniel. (2011). Music Perception and Cognition Research from 1983 to 2010: A Categorical and Bibliometric Analysis of Empirical Articles in “Music Perception”. Music Perception, 29(1), 23-36.

Trehub, S., Schellenberg, E., Kamenetsky, S., & Carr, Thomas H. (1999). Infants’ and Adults’ Perception of Scale Structure. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25(4), 965-975.

Wolpert, R.S. (2000). Attention to Key in a Nondirected Music Listening Task: Musicians vs. Nonmusicians. Music Perception, 18(2), 225-230.

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Hearing Musical Tempo: You need more than just your ears.

Invited Speaker Series: A talk by Justin London at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

There is no doubt that there are some songs that you just can’t help but dance to… but have you ever stopped to think that there is more going on than grooving to the beat?
There are several complex processes taking place as you figure out where the beat is, what it is and how fast it’s going. All this takes place before you begin to move your feet, nod your head or clap your hands.

Carlton Dance                                                                The  Carlton Dance

It Can Get Complicated!

In his presentation to the students on the MSc in Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths, Justin London from Carleton College (USA) explained how our judgment of tempo is dependent on multiple factors both auditory and non-auditory. The auditory factors affecting our judgments include Beat Rate per Minute (BPM), Rate of surface activity, Dynamics and Spectral Flux.

Spectral Flux a measure of how the acoustical energy in various parts of the auditory spectrum varies over time. Music with low spectral flux will contain fewer events. while music with high spectral flux will necessarily have more events and can be more complex.

London spoke about a study which tested participants perceived tempo judgments on music with High Flux and Low Flux at different tempos (London et al., 2015). Each test of tempo was played to the participant both quietly and loudly, to also assess the effect of volume on tempo perception. The study revealed that music with High Flux was perceived as being faster than the simple Low Flux music.

     Flux Test J.London

                                 Figure 1. Justin London’s results bar graph for Flux test.

 

Step to The Beat!

London and his colleagues (2016) conducted a study to examine if the perception of musical tempo can be affected by the visual information provided. They started by recording videos of participants dancing to songs that are known to have high ‘grooviness’, where ‘groove’ was described as the degree to which a listener will want to move along with the beat of a song (Think Motown, Stevie Wonder).

The dancers were required to dance along to songs with their tempo increased or decreased by 5% (time- stretched versions), as well as in the song’s original tempo (baseline tempi versions). For the time-stretched versions, participants were asked to dance freely, whereas for the baseline tempi versions, participants were requested to dance either in a relaxed (slow) or vigorous (fast) manner.

Motion capture animations based on the video recordings of the dance movements were then presented to a different group of participants to rate the speed of the songs. The second group of participants were exposed to the music in 3 different ways: audio-only, audio with video, and video-only.

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Figure 2. An example of how participants were exposed in the audio with video condition (from London et al., 2016)

The results of the study found that the relaxed versions of the song were perceived as slower, and vigorous versions as faster. There seems to be a visual-auditory tempo illusion, which means that the differing movement (relaxed / vigorous) of the dancers can influence one’s perceived tempo, even when their body movements and the beat of music are in synchrony (London et al., 2016).

Results also showed that the songs with relaxed versions were perceived as even slower when compared to the songs with highest tempo (130BPM) when presented without audio (video only). This was explained that it is acceptable to have slow movements in a fast song, but not fast movements in a slow song. (Imagine rocking your heart out to the song Starry Starry Night (Vincent)!) Thus, London and his colleagues concluded that when one encounters a conflicting connection between the audio and visual input, this information would be further integrated in a meaningful manner – in a way that makes the “best sense” to the perceiver.

Watch What You’re Listening To!

The McGurk Effect (McGurk & Macdonald, 1976) is an fascinating example of cross modal perception. It demonstrates the powerful link between sight and hearing. A great example of the McGurk Effect has been demonstrated using a video loop of a person pronouncing a syllable like “ga” twice. The video and audio tracks are purposefully played out of sync to begin with and gradually synchronize. The confusion experienced was initially created and then resolved by vocal motor neurons. Recent research has discovered the existence of

mirror neurons. These are the same neurons which make you laugh or cringe when you see someone fall over Charlie Chaplin style Manfredi, Adorni and Proverbio, (2014).

Mirror neurons are multimodal association neurons that increase their activity during the execution of certain actions and whilst hearing or seeing corresponding actions being performed by others (Schreuder, 2014). There is marked increase their activity during the execution of certain actions and whilst hearing or seeing corresponding actions being performed by others.

When it comes to perceiving musical tempo, during a live performance, these neurons play an important role in “feeling” the beat. Imagine seeing a marimba player or Taiko drummer perform. As you watch their hand elevate and strike there is a point where what you see will affect what hear. Schutz and Lipscomb, (2007) found that the gesture of a percussionist can affect the observers visual perception of the tempo of the performance. Observing a drummer perform an epic solo whilst attending to the rhythm of the numerous beats he or she plays generally leads to jaw dropping observation. The flux and volume, as mentioned before, will also affect how you perceive a performance and react. Not to mention the adrenaline rush most people feel when they see their favorite band performing.

Click on the link below to experience the confounding Mcgurk effect; “magic of the mind” for yourself.

Truly, we can see that there are many sensory modalities involved in such a simple task like keeping up with the rhythm of a song. So the next time when you’re in concert watching your favorite performer singing and moving along with the song, remember that seeing them is (almost?) having as big an impact as hearing them.

This blog was written following Justin London’s presentation to Goldsmiths’ Music, Mind and Brain MSc students on 1/12/ 2016 as part of the ‘Invited Speaker’ series.

Authors: Kelly Kai Ling Yap, Joseph Trott and Sinanezelo Mancama.

For more details on the Music, Mind and Brain MSc, please visit: http://www.gold.ac.uk/pg/msc-music-mind- brain/.

References

Acharya, S. and Shukla, S. (2012). Mirror neurons: Enigma of the metaphysical modular brain. Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, 3(2), p.118.

Fowler, C. A., Galantucci, B., Saltzman E. (2003). Motor theories of perception. The handbook of brain theory and neural networks, MIT Press, 705-707.

Galantucci, B., Fowler, C. A., & Turvey M. T. (2006). The motor theory of speech perception reviewed. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13(3), 361–377.

London, J. (2016). Hearing Musical Tempo: You Need More than Your Ears. Presentation, Goldsmiths, University of London.

London, J., Burger, B., Thompson, M., & Toiviainen P. (2016). Speed on the dance floor: Auditory and visual cues for musical tempo. Acta Psychologica, 164, 70–80.

Manfredi, M., Adorni, R. and Proverbio, A. (2014). Why do we laugh at misfortunes? An electrophysiological exploration of comic situation processing. Neuropsychologia, 61, pp.324-334.

McGurk, H., MacDonald, J. (1976). “Hearing lips and seeing voices”. Nature. 264 (5588), 746– 748.

Schutz, M. and Lipscomb, S. (2007). Hearing gestures, seeing music: Vision influences perceived tone duration. Perception, 36(6), 888-897.

Schreuder, D. (2014). Vision and Visual Perception (1st ed.). Archway Publishing.

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Helping to find your voice: A project by Karen Wise on the science of singing

Singing is part of everyday life: from supporting our favourite sports teams with the National Anthem, to soothing children with a lullaby. Yet, while I always burst into ‘Happy Birthday’ when the cake comes out at a party, my grandmother stays mute. It’s sad that she feels unable to engage in such an essential human activity, however she’s not alone.

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Staying mute: a political stance or is Jeremy Corbyn too shy to sing?

According to a 2005 study by Cuddy and colleagues around 17% of people define themselves as ‘tone deaf’, whilst researchers Hutchins & Peretz (2010) estimate a fifth of adults are ‘poor pitch singers’. These individuals, and the wider population of self-identified ‘non-singers’, often hold negative beliefs about singing and their own abilities. One cause of such beliefs can be criticism from someone such as a teacher or parent during childhood, but this is not the only source.

My grandmother believes that she “can’t” sing and that singing is an all-or-nothing, innate ability. However music education and development expert Graham Welch (1985) conceptualizes singing as a continuum of skill. A skill requiring the coordination of perception, cognition and movement, that we normally acquire during early childhood, but that can also manifest later in life.

Below is a simplified representation of how singing behavior changes over time, based on data from thousands of children (Welch, 2005).

welch-diagram

As we get older we develop greater accuracy over our voices, becoming aware that vocal pitch can be consciously controlled (pitch direction control) and developing the ability to move in the right direction, reproducing the ups and downs in a melody (contour accuracy). Interval accuracy is the ability to make theses ups or downs the right distance apart. At this stage, pitching may be fairly good within a phrase – a line sung in one breath – but not as accurate between phrases, once a breath is taken. By the age of eleven the vast majority of individuals are able to sing a simple song in tune (tonal stability). The green arrow represents the development of vocal use, with the range of notes we can sing accurately increasing as we learn vocal control (Rutkowski, 1990). This is an overall trajectory, and not a series of linear steps, as the same child can produce performances at different places on the continuum depending on the difficulty of the song, the context, etc.

Maybe “non-singers” have difficulties with one or more stages of these processes, however nothing concrete is currently identified as little is known about what occurs developmentally after the age of eleven or the role of training or maturation. One interesting finding was a study by researchers Demorest and Pfordresher (2015) that compared the singing accuracy of primary school children with secondary school children (years 7-9) and university students. They found that whilst children’s skills increased dramatically from 5 years to 13 years of age, university students performed at the level of primary school children, indicating that adults who have stopped singing may regress in their singing skills.

But there is hope: an exploratory intervention study by Numminen and colleagues (2015) found that, given the appropriate supportive singing opportunities such as vocal training, negative beliefs of non-singers can be changed and singing skills can be improved.

This transformation intrigues Dr Karen Wise, a Research Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. As a psychologist, lecturer, and mezzo-soprano Dr Wise has a particular interest in the psychology of singing, focusing on singing difficulties in untrained and ‘non-singing’ adults. She is currently heading a multi-method, interdisciplinary, intervention project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project, called ‘Finding a voice: The art and science of unlocking the potential of adult non-singers’, is observing the journey of learning to sing in adulthood.

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Singing together: over 320 choirs are part of the Rock Choir organisation http://www.rockchoir.com

Despite the growth in music-making opportunities that are ostensibly for non-singers, such as the un-auditioned choral group Rock Choir, Dr Wise is unsure whether they are as inclusive or as evidence-based as they could be. Although researchers are investigating the role of music for health, she argues that studies have, so far, only focused on interventions for specific groups, overlooking the large population of non-singers, and focusing strongly on outcomes rather than detailed description of interventions. The lack of documentation, systematic research and evidence for effective strategies to support adult singers needs is a glaring gap in research, and is one she hopes to fill.

 

As a singer and teacher herself, Dr Wise’s perspective is a unique one. Not only does she wish to investigate singing in adulthood from a cognitive psychological perspective but also from that of a vocal pedagogue. Rightly, she has highlighted the gap between the scientific community and that of singing practitioners like teachers and choir leaders. Additionally, there is barely any concrete literature on how singing teachers deal with poor-pitch singers as their strategies have not been systematically investigated or solidified. With her work, Wise hopes to encourage communication between these fields to integrate scientific research with vocal pedagogy, piecing together the relationship between singing skills and other aspects of musicality, whilst developing a greater understanding of what it means to sing.

The 33-month-long project is currently ongoing and structured in two strands. The first is a naturalistic study tracking the progress of 20 non-singing adult participants as they undergo a yearlong practical singing course at Guildhall School of Music and Drama (September 2016 – July 2017). They will receive a combination of individual lessons, group singing sessions and workshops.

The researchers used a broad definition of ‘non-singer’, accepting individuals who avoid singing, self-define as tone-deaf, only sing in the shower, or believe they can’t sing. Following a recruitment drive, an overwhelming 355 initial respondents were whittled down to the final 20 participants (11 women, 9 men aged 23-71). They have a range of musical and singing skill levels as well as different attitudes and self-beliefs.

Dr Wise and her team used several psychometric tools to assess the participants’ baseline skills, including the Gold-MSI – a battery of tests that flexibly assess individuals’ ability to engage with music, involving a self-report questionnaire and tests of melody memory and beat perception – and the Seattle Singing Accuracy Protocol, which is an online 15-20 minute test of singing accuracy and related skills. They also asked about beliefs regarding singing, singing identity and self-perceptions, along with participants’ educational level, their engagement with singing activities over the past year, and aspects of health that may affect singing or listening.

The researchers will monitor the participant’s progress in a variety of ways including video recording individual and group lessons, asking both participants and teachers to keep diaries and other reflective writing, and conducting interviews. The assessments used to evaluate the participants’ singing abilities prior to the intervention will be repeated at two more time points, during and after the singing course. Wise hopes to find an improvement in singing abilities over the yearlong training course, whether minor or huge. And of great interest are the kinds of changes that take place and how skills develop, as well as how people experience their journey of learning to sing.

Still in development, the second strand of the project is based on evidence of a correlation between auditory imagery, the ability to imagine sounds vividly in the mind’s ear, and singing accuracy (see Pfordresher & Halpern, 2013). It will look at the relationship between singing, auditory imagery, and other cognitive skills through the use of a specially designed app.

And hopefully this research will help adults like my grandmother find their voice.

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Authors: Robyn Donnelly & Jen Mair

For more information on Dr. Wise or the project, please visit: http://www.gsmd.ac.uk/about_the_school/research/research_areas/finding_a_voice/.

 

References

Cuddy, L., Balkwill, L., Peretz, I., and Holden, R.R. (2005). Musical difficulties are rare: A study of ‘tone deafness’ among university students. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, The Neurosciences and Music II: From Perception to Performance 1060: 311–324.

Demorest, S., Pfordresher, P. (2015) Singing Accuracy Development from K-Adult: A Comparative Study. Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 32 No. 3. 293-302.

Hutchins, S. and Peretz, I. (2012). A frog in your throat or in your ear: Searching for the causes of poor singing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 141(1): 76–97. doi:10.1037/a0025064.

MacDonald, R. A. R. (2013). Music, health, and well-being: A review. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being, 8, 10.3402/qhw.v8i0.20635. http://doi.org/10.3402/qhw.v8i0.20635

Numminen, A., Lonka, K., Raino, A. P., & Ruismäki, H. (2015). “Singing is no longer forbidden to me – it’s like part of my human dignity has been restored’. Adult non-singers learning to sing: an explorative intervention study. The European Journal of Social and Behavioural Sciences. 12: 1660-1674.

Pfordresher, P.Q., Halpern, A. R. & Greenspon, E.B. (2015). A mechanism for sensorimotor translation in singing: The Multi-Modal Imagery Association (MMIA) model.

Rutkowski, J. (1990). The measurement and evaluation of children’s singing voice development. The Quarterly Journal of Teaching and Learning 1: 81–95.

Welch, G.F. (1985). A schema theory of how children learn to sing in tune. Psychology of Music 13: 3–17.

Welch, G.F. (2005). Singing as Communication. In: D. Miell, R. MacDonald, and D.J. Hargreaves (eds), Musical Communication, pp. 239–259. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wise, K.J. (2009). Understanding “tone deafness”: A multi-componential analysis of perception, cognition, singing and self-perceptions in adults reporting musical difficulties. PhD Thesis, Keele University.

 

 

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Nobody’s perfect – Error monitoring in the performing brain

 

Gabriela Bury, December 13th 2016

Every time I attempt to order my favourite coffee at Costa, my tongue decides to fail me in every possible way. I often mispronounce my order so bad I end up walking out of the coffee shop carrying a boring Americano instead of my beloved Mocha, too polite to rectify my mistake. As I suffer my coffee tragedy in silence, I can’t help but wonder – why? What went wrong after I carefully planned out what I was going to say?image002

Performing everyday actions like walking, speaking or making basic decisions seems automatic to us. In reality, our brains need to process a great amount of information for us to execute such precise motor and cognitive tasks. We first formulate theintention to perform a certain task, before our brain plans the action and executes it. The brain is then involved in constant monitoring through auditory, tactile and proprioceptive feedback, making sure that the executed behaviour is consistent with what we intended.

Our brains are continuously involved in this complicated loop of processing, sometimes monitoring many loops at the same time, and it is only normal for something to go wrong every now and then. We stumble over our words, our feet get tangled, we perform the wrong action. This feeds back into the loop, signaling to the brain that we’ve made an error.

The ability to monitor our actions and errors is crucial for goal-directed, adaptive behavior in a changing environment. Error-monitoring has been extensively studied in simple choice or reaction-time tasks, which can be easily manipulated to induce mistakes. Mismatch in monitoring can occur when the participant made an actual error, or when the feedback he received on his action was manipulated in a way that did not match his expectations. EEG recordings showed that errors led to more negative activity in the dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (dACC) of the brain 50 ms after error onset (Error-related negativity, ERN), and feedback errors led to more negative activity in the brain 250 ms after unexpected feedback onset (Feedback ERN; Simon, 2009 ; Nieuwenhuis et al., 2004).

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Source : Simon, 2009 and Nieuwenhuis et al., 2004

Although simple choice and time-reaction tasks help study action- and error-monitoring, in real life this process involves many components such as memory retrieval, sensory-motor association, or precise control of motor actions. Something this complex can hardly be represented accurately by repetitively pressing a computer key in a lab, and the study of more complex movement is necessary for a fuller understanding of what happens when we make mistakes. This, unsurprisingly, is when music comes into play.

Musicians are indeed ideal candidates for the study of action monitoring. A professional pianist does not only display impressive motor skills; he is also a memory expert able to retrieve very long pieces of melody, and capable of constant monitoring of his performance through auditory feedback. I am no professional pianist, but I like to fool myself into thinking that my 14 years of formal musical training should enable me to play perfectly a piece I know by heart. More often than not, I end up throwing my book of Chopin’s waltzes on the floor and storming off, knowing perfectly well – as every good neuroscientist should – that my lack of work and motivation are not the ones to blame for my repetitive failures. No, the real culprit is, of course, my brain.

In a study by Maidhof and colleagues (2010), auditory feedback was manipulated so as not to match the expectations of professional pianists who were either playing a melody, or simply listening to one. The participants therefore had the perception of making a mistake, as the feedback differed from the expected melody. The same feedback error-related negativity observed in simple tasks was identified in EEG recordings of both groups of participants, pointing towards similar mechanisms underlying the processing of expectancy violations in more complex tasks such as music.

More interesting yet is what happens in the brain when an actual mistake is made during a performance. Both Herrojo Ruiz and Maidhof and colleagues (2009) analysed piano performances and isolated specific types of errors. All notes were played at the same high tempo, however a delay was observed in the onset of wrong notes, and even the keypress velocity decreased when a wrong note was played. Pianists did not just slow down when mistakes were made; they slowed down before they even had the time to press the wrong key and hear their mistake. This happened even when pianists were prevented from receiving auditory feedback and did not hear their mistake. EEG recordings confirmed this by showing a pre-error negative activity increase 100 ms before the erroneous key was played

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Source : Maidhof et al., 2009

A further study by the same authors (2013) used motion capture to record the hand movements of pianists while they were performing, blindfolded. This not only gave rise to funky little piano-playing skeleton hand images, but also supplied behavioural information about what happens before error onset (see https://vid.me/4nS2 to see the skeleton hands in action). This provided data about tactile feedback – the feedback the pianist’s brain gets from touching the right or wrong key. This feedback is obtained as the key is touched, not pressed, and is therefore processed before a key is played. The interval between the onset of tactile feedback (key touch) and the key being played (key press) was greater when an error was committed than when the right key was pressed. The analysis of the combined motion capture and EEG data might suggest that tactile feedback could play a part in error detection, but its role still needs further investigation. All that is sure is that pianists slowed down in response to a mistake they did not yet fully commit.

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The pianist’s hand before

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The pianist’s hand after

How can the brain possibly predict an error before it happens? Some, like Maidhof and his colleagues, say that it is probably due to the brain’s predictive control processes that compare the predicted outcome of an action with the action goal before its actual realisation. Some, like myself, prefer to think that musicians’ brains are basically crystal balls – and will definitely flaunt those superpowers at the next party they attend. All will hopefully agree that studying the neuroscience of music, however cool and artsy it may sound, can actually help us understand a lot more about our brains’ incredible capacities.

This blog was written following Clemens Maidhof’s presentation to Goldsmiths’ Music, Mind and Brain students on 27/10 2016 as part of the ‘Invited Speaker’ series.

For more details on the Music, Mind and Brain MSc, please visit: http://www.gold.ac.uk/pg/msc-music-mind-brain/.

References

Dikman, Z. V., & Allen, J. J. (2000). Error monitoring during reward and avoidance learning in high-and low-socialized individuals. Psychophysiology37(01), 43-54.

Lutz, K., Puorger, R., Cheetham, M., & Jancke, L. (2013). Development of ERN together with an internal model of audio-motor associations. Frontiers in human neuroscience7.

Maidhof, C., Rieger, M., Prinz, W., & Koelsch, S. (2009). Nobody is perfect: ERP effects prior to performance errors in musicians indicate fast monitoring processes. PLoS One4(4), e5032.

Maidhof, C., Vavatzanidis, N., Prinz, W., Rieger, M., & Koelsch, S. (2010). Processing expectancy violations during music performance and perception: an ERP study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience22(10), 2401-2413.

Maidhof, C., Pitkäniemi, A., & Tervaniemi, M. (2013). Predictive error detection in pianists: a combined ERP and motion capture study. Frontiers in human neuroscience7, 587.

Nieuwenhuis, S., Yeung, N., Holroyd, C. B., Schurger, A., & Cohen, J. D. (2004). Sensitivity of electrophysiological activity from medial frontal cortex to utilitarian and performance feedback. Cerebral Cortex14(7), 741-747.

Ruiz, M. H., Jabusch, H. C., & Altenmüller, E. (2009). Detecting wrong notes in advance: neuronal correlates of error monitoring in pianists. Cerebral Cortex19(11), 2625-2639.

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Mom’s Spaghetti: Demystifying Performance Anxiety

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Insights into music performance anxiety and managment with
Prof. Aaron Williamon, Centre for Performance Science

by Darragh Lynch & Georgina Ng


“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy,
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti”

– Eminem (“Lose Yourself”)


It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand how Eminem felt in his lead single to the film “8 Mile” – we’ve all been there (hopefully without the vomit!). Performance anxiety is a state many have experienced in some form, whether for a school presentation, a sports competition, or a concert. It is rife amongst musicians (Langendörfer et al., 2006), having disrupted the careers of seasoned musicians in both popular music, such as Barbra Streisand (Stossel, 2014), and classical music, such as pianist Vladimir Horowitz and soprano Renee Fleming (Wesner, Noyes & Davis, 1990; Hewett, 2014). Given performance anxiety’s debilitating effects, it is unsurprising that researchers such as Prof. Aaron Williamon of the Centre for Performance Science – a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London – have endeavoured to discover more about it. Here, we will discuss how Prof. Williamon’s research into performance stress, as presented at Goldsmiths College, University of London, can be drawn upon to help performers – particularly musicians – with this common difficulty.

What, exactly, is performance anxiety?

Salmon (1990) defines performance anxiety as:

“The experience of persisting, distressful apprehension about and/or actual impairment of, performance skills in a public context, to a degree unwarranted given the individual’s musical aptitude, training, and level of preparation.”

This unwarranted apprehension manifests in three ways: somatic, behavioural, and cognitive. Somatic symptoms are the physical attributes of anxiety triggered by the “fight or flight” response via the sympathetic nervous system, such as an increase in heart rate, sweating, and shortness of breath, while behavioural symptoms include nervous tics such as fidgeting and pacing. Perhaps most obviously, performance anxiety affects cognitive processes and emotions, creating negative feelings and catastrophic thoughts (“What if my guitar string breaks?!”).

Although performance anxiety may certainly give rise to some rather unpleasant feelings, most people mainly dread it because of its effect on performance. Yerkes and Dodson (1908) first posited the inverted U hypothesis where performance quality increases with somatic anxiety (or arousal) up to an individuals’ threshold, after which performance quality decreases with further increase in somatic anxiety.

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Yerkes-Dodson inverted-U hypothesis

Catastrophe theory (Hardy & Parfitt, 1991), as depicted in the rather confusing 3D graph below, further specifies the role of cognitive anxiety by adding it along the z-axis. High levels of cognitive anxiety can further hamper the effects of somatic anxiety on performance — if your heart is already racing and your palms are sweaty, worrying about that tricky violin solo is bound to further affect your performance. On the flip side, a “sweet spot” of optimum performance can be attained with the correct levels of cognitive anxiety and physiological arousal.

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Catastrophe Theory

Measurement and findings

Theories are useful, but let’s see some evidence! Prof. Williamon presented several recent studies he was involved with, all of which focused on performance stress in musicians.

In one study, Prof. Williamon and colleagues (2013) measured the heart rate of professional pianist Melvyn Tan during high-stress and low-stress performance situations. In a low-stress situation (a practice room with the research team), the pianist’s heart rate steadily increased — from baseline measures, through pre-performance time, to during the performance. Nothing surprising there. However, in a high-stress situation (the Cheltenham Music Festival), heart rate was found to be much higher at pre-performance time than during the actual high stress performance. Although heart rate is an imperfect measure of physiological reactivity to stress due to individual differences and the variability of music over time (some sections of pieces may be more physically demanding) this research can be commended for its pioneering use of complexity science algorithms in analysing heart rate to account for such artefacts.

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Experimental design measuring heartrate (Electroencephalogram; ECG) with Melvyn Tan in Williamon et al. (2013)

Another study by Prof. Williamon (currently unpublished) demonstrated similar results with musicians in both London, England, and Lugano, Switzerland. The complexity science approach mentioned before was used to assess physiological reactivity backstage and during performance in both a high- and low-stress performance situation. In both situations, arousal was higher backstage than during the actual performance. A further study with professional choir singers (Fancourt et al., 2015) found that patterns of change in stress hormones largely mirror those of the earlier cardiovascular research, confirming that the physical states in which musicians are in during performance are quantitatively different than when they are in practise.

How can these findings help musicians with performance anxiety?

Prof. Williamon’s work suggests two main points. Firstly, the difference in anxiety responses in low- and high-stress performance situations highlights the importance of being accustomed to high-stress situations in predicting (and hence effectively managing) any patterns of performance anxiety one may feel. One way is to practise performing – i.e. repeated exposure to high stress situations. In light of this, Prof. Williamon and colleagues (2014) created a performance simulator to recreate high-stress performance situations, complete with audience and stage, to help bridge the gap between practice and performance.

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Prof. Williamon’s virtual reality performance simulator

Secondly, with arousal being highest before performance, a good point at which anxiety management techniques can be implemented is the critical pre-performance period. For instance, to ameliorate the anxiety felt while waiting to go onstage, one could use methods that draw upon the relationship between somatic and cognitive anxiety, such as re-appraising one’s symptoms as excitement (Brooks, 2014) or mindfulness meditation.

Certain practices may also help if integrated into one’s lifestyle, such as the Alexander Technique and yoga, both of which focus on reducing muscular and postural stress. Cross-stressor methods may also help — Childs and de Wit (2014) found that regular exercise may improve emotional resilience to stress and anxiety. For musical performance educators, Prof. Williamon notes that it is equally important to be aware of their students’ particular preferences and anxiety patterns in order to advise on suitable solutions. For instance, students won’t practice mindfulness if they personally think it’s a load of nonsense!

The bottom line? Performance anxiety is a common and crippling problem. However, the work of researchers such as Prof. Williamon offers hope for those of us aiming to overcome it: not only can we understand more about how, when, and why performance anxiety occurs, but we also discover empirical ways of confronting our own personal variation of it. This can only be a good thing — after all, the show must go on!

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