Expressive Performance: What Cognitive Psychology Says

Robert Woody
Crown Center Sheraton Hotel - CHOUTEAU A/B

The field of music psychology has provided interesting insights into the nature of emotion and expression. Innovative research approaches have yielded discoveries with important implications to music teaching. This session will tap into these findings, first tackling the basic question of how music communicates meaning to listeners, then considering the processes through which performers translate emotional intentions into sounded music. Music teachers use a variety of approaches in developing students’ expressive performance skills. These include verbal instruction directed at musical sound properties (e.g., dynamics, tempo, articulation), aural modeling and imitation, and descriptive imagery designed to stir performers’ felt emotion. What determines which approach will be effective with a particular student? With a better understanding of the cognitive processes that underlie expressive performance, teachers can choose the optimal strategy. Expressive communication can also be greatly affected by extra-musical factors. Psychological research has shown that with live music, listeners take many cues about emotionality from musicians’ facial expressions, bodily movements, and other physical attributes. What people hear—or think they hear—is heavily influenced by what they see. This holds true even with musically sophisticated audience members, whose judgments of expressive quality can be biased by things like performer attractiveness, wardrobe, and stage behavior. The session will recommend practical strategies for musicians to maximize their own expressive development and that of their students. It will show how to combine instructional modes for maximal learning, and how to utilize extra-musical factors to enhance performance.

Friday, July 6
10:00 – 10:45am