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Haley E Kragness and Laurel J Trainor (2019)

Nonmusicians Express Emotions in Musical Productions Using Conventional Cues

Music & Science, 2:1-13.

Expert musicians use a number of expressive cues to communicate specific emotions in musical performance. In turn, listeners readily identify the intended emotions. Previous studies of cue utilization have studied the performances of expert or highly trained musicians, limiting the generalizability of the results. Here, we use a musical self-pacing paradigm to investigate expressive cue use by non-expert individuals with varying levels of formal music training. Participants controlled the onset and offset of each chord in a musical sequence by repeatedly pressing and lifting a single key on a MIDI piano, controlling tempo and articulation. In addition, the velocity with which they pressed the key controlled the sound level (dynamics). Participants were asked to “perform” the music to express basic emotions that were (1) positively or negatively valenced and (2) high- or low-arousal (joy, sadness, peacefulness, and anger). Nonmusicians’ expressive cue use was consistent with patterns of cue use by professional musicians described in the literature. In a secondary analysis, we explored whether formal training affected how tempo, articulation, dynamics, rhythm, and phrasing were employed to express the target emotions. We observed that the patterns of cue use were strikingly consistent across groups with differing levels of formal musical training. Future work could investigate whether expertise is implicated in the expression of more complex emotions and/or in the expression of more complex musical structures, as well as explore the role of emotional intelligence and informal musical experiences in expressive performance.

emotion, music, expression, performance expression