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Bodily Mediated Coordination, Collaboration, and Communication in Music Performance

Abstract and Keywords

The psychological study of the body in musical performance is a rich area with a wide range of applications for performers and teachers alike. In this chapter, some of the ways in which the body operates in the processes of generating, communicating, and understanding music performance are explored. Topics covered include the motor control aspects of playing and the bodily movements used for expressive musical effects as well as cooperative performance. Individual differences in bodily postures and gestures as well as the identification of types of bodily movement used for interpersonal communication are investigated to show how this information works to develop efficient collaborations. A theoretical basis for the work is that our sounds and bodily behaviors emerge from a single idea source, and in interpersonal communication our gestures and postures express and vivify our thoughts and utterances—spoken or musical, depending on the “language” we are manipulating.

Keywords: movement communication, bodily movement, movement expression, gestures, interpersonal communication


The body has a crucial role in the production and perception of musical performance that has been recognized for centuries. Indeed, the ancient Greeks recognized the centrality of the body in all artistic performance expression, revealing that there was little to distinguish between the physical coordination required in music and dance. Speaking of all human activity, ethnomusicologist John Blacking (1977) argued in The Anthropology of the Body that a detailed understanding of the body set within the individual’s cultural context can reveal subtle details about that person and how he/she interacts within society. Increasingly since the 1970s scholarship has paid more attention to the role of the body in artistic activity, providing useful theories relating to how embodied thoughts and actions allow us to know and understand the world in which we inhabit through artistic performance activities like music and dance. For example, by the 1990s, in the area of critical musicology, Susan McClary’s (1991) Feminine Endings usefully addressed the function of the body through groundbreaking studies of popular artists, especially female artists like Madonna and k.d. Lang, illustrating how it was as much our knowledge of these women as pop stars that influenced our experience of them, as it was their physical appearance and stage persona alongside the expressive affect experienced in their musical expressions that contributed to the performance: their bodies were recognized as a very special site of social exchange, and thus, highlighting the physical, social, and cultural nexus.

Research in the field of music psychology on the body has reflected some of the recent social anthropology and critical musicology trends, and so has developed a strand of socially (p. 574) focused enquiry. In this chapter, indeed, to contextualize the multifaceted roles the body fulfils in generating and communicating music with others, social and psychological theory frames the reference scope.

Generally, and consistent with the origins of modern psychology of music work, the research on the body has tended to focus more on the bodily control aspects of playing, such as how movements assemble to execute a musical task. Intriguingly, these motor programming studies have been interfaced with some studies on music learning so that evidence for the emergence of these skills has occurred. Further perceptual enquiries and movement-tracking studies have explored the body movements used for expressive musical effects, and more recently cooperative performance. Studies with explicit social agendas have considered within group music context, studies of the identification of types of bodily movement used for interpersonal collaboration, including the coordination of musical and extramusical material (musical and general social dynamics), and how this information helps to develop efficient collaborations have been undertaken. Thus, there has been a broad range of investigation, and all of this will be considered in this chapter.

The body is crucial to generating and communicating all ideas, and indeed mediating communication in social interaction. Growth point theory suggests that our sounds and bodily behaviors are emergent linguistic and imagistic processes from a single idea unit (McNeill, 1992)—an attractive analogy for music performance. In interpersonal communication, our gestures and postures express and vivify thoughts and speech (Argyle, 1988; Goldin-Meadow, 2003; Kendon, 2004; McNeill, 1992). A growing body of evidence from the neurosciences suggest that our understanding of others’ actions is by shared representational structures and neural activation (e.g., Gallese and Goldman, 1998; Hommel, Müsseler, Aschersleben and Prinz, 2001; Leman, 2008; Molnar-Szakacs and Overy, 2006; Pfeifer and Dapretto, 2009). As demonstrated by studies in artistic domains, specialist motor expertise appears to shape perception of others’ actions (Broughton and Stevens, 2012), as well as neural response (e.g., Calvo-Merino, Glaser, Grèzes, Passingham and Haggard, 2005; Haslinger et al., 2005; Lahav, Saltzman and Schlaug, 2007). But regardless of specialist training, there are fundamental ways in which seeing performing bodies influences what is perceived of auditory information.

The McGurk effect (MacDonald and McGurk, 1978) shows that when there is a mismatch between visual and auditory components of a speech sound, a third sound is perceived. This illusion has also been observed in music with visual gestural information influencing judgments of marimba note duration (Schutz and Lipscomb, 2007), or cello pluck and bow sounds (Saldaña and Rosenblum, 1993). Indeed, visual and auditory information, as shown in a study involving sung intervals and affective judgments, are believed to integrate pre-attentively and automatically (Thompson, Russo and Quinto, 2008). Another illusion—the ventriloquism effect—is demonstrated every time one watches television, that is, the perception that sound originates from a location other than its true spatial location (Thurlow and Jack, 1973). Thus, the visual aspect of interpersonal communication seems very powerful. Taken together, it would appear that the body is crucial to processes of producing, communicating, and understanding music performance.

With this context in mind, the aim of the current chapter is to focus on how the body operates in the social processes of music-making: primarily coordinating, collaborating, and communicating. Coordination implies working together in an efficient and effective manner toward a shared goal. Collaboration suggests a further injection of creativity in the process and outcome of working in a coordinated manner with others. Communication (p. 575) implies social processes in operation within the ensemble, as well as between performer(s) and audience. The authors have attempted to cover the breadth of literature. However, the studies mentioned are by no means exhaustive. The chapter begins with a general overview of how musicians’ bodies operate in performance, and how bodily behaviors might evolve over time. Discussion moves on to social considerations. These include coordinating and collaborating with others, and performer(s)–audience communication. A wider lens then considers cross-cultural and genre issues, rounding off with discussion of nonverbal expressions of personal aspects and social-group processes in music performance.

The Body in the Task of Performance

The musician’s task is a complex one. To produce expertise requires refined and specialized perceptual, cognitive, and motoric processes. It takes hours of deliberate practice each day, sustained over a period of approximately 10 years, in order to reach the heights of expert performance (Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer, 1993). But the soloist must also be a skilled communicator. The musician’s body is not just the tool for producing exquisite musical sound. The performer’s musical thoughts and feelings are embodied in a holistic sense; transformed into a multimodal display in order to express and communicate with others. Thus, the body is crucial to several processes in the task of solo performance: thought, feeling, production, and communication, regardless of the particular intricacies of the instrument or voice. Contextualized in this way, it is obvious that at its core, performing music is a social endeavor. Whether performing solo or in an ensemble, effective communication with the audience is paramount. As musicians come together to make music, the body is also crucial to coordinating, collaborating, and communicating with co-performers.

Collective music-making can involve as little as two musicians, as in singer–piano duos. It can also allude to very large groups of instrumentalists and singers, such as the case when an orchestra combines with a choir to perform under the baton of a conductor. Whatever the size and ensemble makeup, there are points of convergence in the ways in which the body supports coordination and collaboration between co-performers. For example, glances and eye contact are commonly used during collective music-making by singers (Davidson and Coulam, 2006), instrumentalists (Seddon, 2005; Seddon and Biasutti, 2009; Williamon and Davidson, 2002), and conductors (Byo and Lethco, 2001; Fredrickson, 1994; Price and Mann, 2011; Silvey, 2011) to support optimal ensemble cohesion and collaboration. However, bodily behaviors can differ between these three categories of musicians for several reasons. Instrumentalists are constrained by the size, shape, and position of their instrument in relation to how it can be held and so how they can interact with it. Singers use verbal communication, with text to communicate, and have their arms free to move to employ expressive gestures freely, not physically encumbered by holding an instrument, so scope for freedom of bodily communication for them is considerably more than instrumentalists. Although conductors do not have to use their bodies to make musical sound, their gestures must embody and direct tempo, as well as expressive intentions to lead the ensemble. But additional to differences in function between singers, instrumentalists, and conductors, factors such as social status within the group and personality are expressed through the body, and interact with the group processes. Furthermore, the embodied processes resulting from collective music-making provide a (p. 576) wealth of visual information, as well as auditory, to which the audience may respond. However, the foundation for explorations into group processes is laid through understanding the motor performance skills every musician must possess to support the success of the ensemble.

Motor Aspects

We know that the assemblage of all the subcomponent actions required for a musician’s movement activity is a highly complex process. Recent writing by Jäncke (2006) explains that the movements musicians use emerge from “a concatenation of mechanical and neural factors.” Though such movements have been of interest for many decades, understanding how the movement plans are organized has been a challenge to researchers (see Bernstein, 1967; Lashley, 1951; Wing, 2002). There is an underlying “degrees of freedom problem” that relates to understanding the vast potential array of muscle and nerve impulses that create actions. Since Bernstein (1967) suggested that motor programs (memory representations) operate for classes of movements rather than individual movements, theories to account for movement systems have ranged from the brain operating as a central executive to control movements, to proposals where movement control arises in an open system where the movements are themselves self-organizing (see Dahl, 2004 for a more detailed explanation of these ideas). Ideas have been broad-ranging, for example, it could be that movements trigger one another in a chain or a chain complex (sequential or in parallel), a radial net (this is, where one action may drive several others of equal weighting), a hierarchy (here one or more actions trigger more actions at the next level down through the branches of the hierarchy), or a heterarchy (multiple feedback loops across the hierarchical structure) (for details, see Wing, 2002). The current reality is that we have not a clear single theory to understand how the movements are organized.

For the musician, an understanding of motor programming itself is not essential, but, knowing that the activity of the body involved in playing a piece of music depends on generating and embedding these motor programs in memory by rehearsal is essential. Indeed, musicians need to rehearse their physical actions until they achieve fluency, or an incompressible minimum time to execute them. We know that this can take years to reach fluency for a professional musician. Sloboda, Davidson, Howe, and Moore (1996) found this to be in the range of 3 hours a day across the 10 childhood years of learning. Intriguingly, and offering support for the positive effects of rehearsal, researchers have revealed that practice results in enlarged representations of somatosenory and auditory cortex (Pantev, Engelien, Candia and Elebert, 2001), as well as the motor areas in their brains (Altenmüller and Gruhn, 2002). Moreover, since these programs are established in memory, thought practice can have benefit on physical skill, though it is not as profitable as actual physical practice (Palmer, 2006). Additionally, Dalla Bella and Palmer (2004) have shown that pianists move their fingers approximately three to four events ahead of time, suggesting that an early retrieval for action is required, motor activity being an anticipatory and unfurling behavior in performance.

The development of the motor programs for economy leads to automaticity. In a complex physical activity like musical performance, automaticity is absolutely necessary for it offers fluency. This automaticity varies from the basic assemblage of the body to execute a single musical note through to rapid sequences of notes, often containing subtle musical effects such as counterpoint or inner voicings to be played out for expressive effects. In essence, the expert’s performance movements are seemingly effortless and necessarily effortless so (p. 577) by having achieved a high degree of automation (unconscious processing) in the action, the expert performer’s conscious thought is relatively “free” to deal with moment by moment modifications that may be necessary as the music is being performed. The novice, by contrast, requires full conscious attention on the biomechanical activity. Movements often seem cumbersome, the novice not being able to achieve the actions to fluent effect. This means that the novice is not able to consider other performance-related concerns, for example, adapting to new situations such as encountering a piano with a sticking key (see Lehmann and Davidson, 2002 for more details).

Of course automaticity is required not only for movement fluency, but for the link between eye and hand if the musician is reading music, or between co-performers and timing, dynamic and overall expressive markings or ideas if the performance is to be coordinated and varying along the same dimensions for all players at all times. So, automaticity is a complex and multilayered skill. The layers of complexity were demonstrated in terms of musical timing by Shaffer (1984), who showed that when carrying out an activity like keyboard performance, there are specific timing effects that result as a consequence of the task demand. He noted, for example, that the keyboard performance by touch typists had specific timing profiles for certain combinations of letters. It is certain that the individual performer’s body and instrument itself adds to this situation. For instance, a small pianist will have to develop his or her representations for playing a sequence of loud, large hand-span chords in a manner that will be slightly different from a larger person, even if the technicalities of playing the piano are based on the same principles and similar thought processes. Additionally, the musical systems developed within a specific culture and the types of sonic outputs created (for example, Indian rag scales or Western tonality) are related to the ergonomics of the musical instrument used (Baily 1985). Indeed, Wiesendanger, Baader, and Kazennikov (2006) have shown that the bowing arm of the string player is highly constrained by the dynamical principles that operate between the bow and string and the arm controlling the bowing action. We can see the interaction of bodily constraints, ergonomics, and cultural context within Western art music when a composition is played on different instruments of the same family; for instance, on a harpsichord versus the piano, or even from one piano to another. The differences in the size and shape of the instrument, plus the force required to play it inevitably shape the physical approach required, and this in turn is influenced by the stylistic requirements of the music to be played—for example, baroque versus contemporary.

Shaffer also examined piano keyboard performances, noting that the timing profiles were additionally related to musical structure features, with, for example, a slowing always occurring at phrase boundaries. So, besides the requirements of achieving motor programming automaticity in order to execute sounds on instruments, it has been demonstrated that each music performer does not play in a purely mechanically efficient manner. The performer also has a set of representations that draw on knowledge and experience of musical style.

Furthermore, the job that a musician has to perform with their body shapes the types of bodily behaviors that they can produce (M. R. Thompson and Luck, 2012).

Types of Bodily Behaviors Evident in Solo and Ensemble Performance

Without an instrumental object to manipulate, singers are relatively free to use their hands to mark the tempo, their bodies to express the narrative of the lyrics or follow the melodic (p. 578) contour (King and Ginsborg, 2011), and their faces for expression (Davidson and Coulam, 2006), although the facial expressions in which singers can engage are constrained by the physical requirements of producing sound (Di Carlo and Guaïtella, 2004; W. F. Thompson and Russo, 2007). Instrumentalists, whose face is similarly engaged in making sound, such as woodwind players, can show very little facial expression (Davidson, 2012). Thus, the task of producing sound dominates musicians’ use of expressive bodily and facial behaviors. Furthermore, those musicians whose basic physical task is essentially similar, such as players of the same instrument type, display a similar repertoire of movements. For example, Davidson (2012) reports from observing two flute–clarinet duos, the flautists engaged in sideways leans to the right, and made circles with the foot of the flute. On the other hand, the clarinetists raised and lowered the bell of their instrument, and made circling movements with their elbows. However, though similarities existed, the ways they used their bodies also demonstrated individuality both in style and approach to achieving similar musical goals.

Davidson (2007) discusses in detail the notion of an individual expressive movement repertoire, or vocabulary. While the number of distinct movements might be limited, the ways in which they can be used can be infinitely expressive according to the context of use. For example, drawn from a vocabulary of no more than 20 movement types, an emphatic “wiggle” might illustrate an ornament in Beethoven, and a long legato passage in C. P. E. Bach. Other gestures, such as an emphatic nodding movement, might be more illustrative in nature, punctuating points of musical emphasis. How many gestures are used from an individual’s range is highly variable (Davidson, 2005). Thus, individuality, and individual creativity is apparent in musicians’ bodily behaviors, and permeates whatever music is being performed.

Conductors too display individuality in the way they use their bodies expressively (Price and Mann, 2011; Wöllner and Auhagen, 2008). The precise way in which they use their hands and arms to communicate the character of different music (Maruyama and Thelen, 2004) as well as produce beat patterns (Luck and Sloboda, 2007; Wöllner, Deconinck, Parkinson, Hove and Keller, 2012) subtly varies between conductors. Yet although both the task and individual factors play a role in the types of bodily and facial behaviors evident, there are behaviors that are commonly used by conductors, instrumentalists, and singers alike. As previously mentioned, singers, instrumentalists, and conductors similarly use eye contact and glances, as well as gestural cues to coordinate and communicate with other ensemble members. Another example is the cyclical swaying motion musicians make with their bodies when performing expressively either alone (Clarke and Davidson, 1998; Davidson, 2002, 2007; Wanderley, 2002), or with others (Davidson, 2012; Davidson and Coulam, 2006; Keller and Appel, 2010; Williamon and Davidson, 2002). While the precise reason for body sway is open to interpretation, undoubtedly musicians’ bodily and facial behaviors also exist because they function to support the flow of performance.

The Function of Musicians’ Bodily and Facial Behaviors in Performance

Where there is a conductor, obviously their prime function is to lead the ensemble (Atik, 1994). Not only do they set and direct the tempo through their beating patterns, their hands (p. 579) can make emblematic gestures (Durrant, 1994). This might be something such as pointing the index finger up toward the ceiling to signify an ensemble member to play a sharper pitch. The effect emblematic gestures have on the performance output can be positive in some cases, and negative in others. For example, Fuelberth (2003) reports hand signals often used to communicate an increase in dynamics (i.e., punching, stabbing, and movements with the palm facing upwards) caused inappropriate vocal tension in singers; their bodies also reportedly reflected the tension. However, a sideways, phrase-shaping conducting movement resulted in only a very slight increase in singers’ vocal tension and an increase in their bodily and head movements. Thus, how conductors use their bodies to illustrate and communicate expressive and musical ideas can have a marked effect on the sound and visual display of an ensemble’s performance. Other bodily and facial behaviors help to regulate the flow of conducted ensemble performance.

In conducted ensemble performance, regulatory gestures, such as head nods and eye contact, assist in managing musical exchanges within the ensemble. When able to hear the ensemble and see the conductor clearly, ensemble musicians reportedly make glances of about 1 second in duration toward the conductor approximately a third of the time they are playing (Fredrickson, 1994). However, eye-contact behavior can vary according to the style of music being performed, how necessary it is to coordinate musical events, or the density of information in the printed music—slower music providing more opportunities to look at the conductor (Byo and Lethco, 2001). Furthermore, Byo and Lethco (2001) suggest that conductor–musician eye-contact behavior is not intimately linked, nor influenced by conductors’ expressiveness in body and face. Thus, eye contact seems important to ensemble coordination, however, there are many factors that shape its usage, and the behavior’s prevalence, including performers’ musical expertise (Skadsem, 1997). Regulatory gestures are just as important for singers and instrumentalists to make use of when there is no conductor directing them.

Though they might be infrequent, glances are a feature of chamber ensemble performance (Davidson, 2012). Musicians themselves report the importance of eye contact to ensemble coordination (Blank and Davidson, 2007; Davidson and Good, 2002; Ford and Davidson, 2003). Looking behaviors can help to regulate timing and to coordinate important locations in the flow of performance (Williamon and Davidson, 2002). Such important locations might be related to the structure of the music, such as entrances, exits, as well as musical effects (Davidson, 2012). Aside from the eyes, bodily movements too serve in regulating entrances and exits between performers (Davidson and Coulam, 2006), regulating tempo (King and Ginsborg, 2011), as well as indicating phrasing (Williamon and Davidson, 2002) and structural boundaries (Davidson and Coulam, 2006; King and Ginsborg, 2011). Thus, regulatory gestures support the optimal functioning of the chamber ensemble. However, some behaviors, such as the case of singers using their gestures to guide and support their technique (Davidson and Coulam, 2006; King and Ginsborg, 2011), might also appear to be illustrative of the music being produced.

Singers often use illustrative gestures to express the textual narrative or melodic contour (Davidson and Coulam, 2006; King and Ginsborg, 2011). For instrumentalists whose bodies need to manipulate an instrument, illustrative gestures might be more constrained, and abstract rather than directly referential. For example, moments of exaggerated hand lifts displayed by duetting pianists and significant body sway movements might be key indicators not only of coordination, but also expressive illustration of the music, and evident when (p. 580) the music provides sufficient temporal space for them to occur (Williamon and Davidson, 2002). For the solo instrumentalist, biomechanical actions necessary for playing the piece are entwined with illustrative, metaphorical gestures. For example, the left hand might trace the flow of the music in the air as the right hand exacts the notes of a legato phrase. While certain gestures and postural adjustments, might serve to accompany and illustrate visually the flow of musical ideas, gestures such as head nodding might also help to regulate the performance timing. The gestures that musicians use, and the points during performance in which they use them, may also be functionally related to memory recall (see work on performance cues and memory; Chaffin and Imreh, 2002; Chaffin and Logan, 2006). Therefore, at times the primary function of musicians’ bodily and facial behaviors may be opaque. However a gesture might be categorized from its outward appearance, musicians’ use of emblematic, illustrative, and regulatory gestures are crucial to intra-ensemble interactions and performer(s)–audience communicative processes, just as they are in general interpersonal communication (Ekman and Friesen, 1969).

While musicians are to a degree cognizant that the way they present themselves impacts on their communicative power with the audience, in co-performance, this concern is somewhat subsumed by the additional mental demands of working with others in a dynamic fashion.

The Body in Co-Performance Process

The level of automaticity skilled musicians possess allows them to surpass concerns about motor control. Instead, their body becomes part of the group, acting as both a messenger and receiver of audiovisual information from co-performers. Attention is largely turned outwards from the “self” in order to generate and respond to audiovisual signals, and achieve group cohesion. Achieving sound synchronicity is a prime goal in collective music-making.

Mechanisms Underpinning Ensemble Synchronization

In order for collective music-making to be successful, musicians must play together in a tightly coordinated fashion. As musicians play in synchrony, their body movements become more coordinated. Keller and Appel (2010) report duetting pianists being synchronized in sound when their anterior–posterior body sway was coordinated. Although coordination was not dependent on visual contact, the amplitude of body sway increased in the absence of visual cues from their partner musician. Goebl and Palmer (2009) report that as auditory feedback diminished, duo piano partners’ hand raises increased in height, and their head movements became more synchronized. Thus, musicians’ body movements might provide important visual cues to partner performers when auditory information is compromised. However, where full audiovisual feedback is available, Keller and Apple (2010) propose that the ability of individual pianists to imagine and anticipate the sounds and action of themselves and their partner, the better coordinated the ensemble performance. Whilst purposefully synchronizing their performance, duetting pianists’ body movements also demonstrate the designated ensemble leadership. The assigned leader moves first (Keller and Appel, 2010), and makes exaggerated movements (Goebl and Palmer, 2009) as if signaling for their (p. 581) partner to follow. But in no ensemble situation is leadership more overt than when a conductor is involved.

The conductor’s beat provides the visual cue, in temporal and spatial domains, with which musicians collectively synchronize. The theoretical proposition that the first beat of the pattern is musically important is supported by empirical evidence showing its salience for synchronization (Luck and Sloboda, 2007; Luck and Toiviainen, 2006). In addition to the prominence in the beat hierarchy, there are certain features of the physical beating action that support optimal synchronization. For example, movements featuring acceleration along the trajectory, then, high instantaneous speed (Luck and Sloboda, 2008), or maximal deceleration on the movement trajectory, followed by high vertical velocity (Luck and Toiviainen, 2006) have been shown to characterize synchronization with a conductor. However, a faster tempo (Luck and Sloboda, 2007), and movements of small curvature at a fast tempo (Luck and Sloboda, 2009) have also been shown to facilitate synchronization. Yet in trying to synchronize with a conductor, individual attributes affect the degree of precision with which one performs the task.

Prior performing and conducting experience has an effect on how well an individual is able to synchronize with a conductor’s beat. Those experienced at synchronizing with a conductor do so more consistently than those without the same experience (Luck and Nte, 2008; Luck and Sloboda, 2007). Yet whereas musicians synchronize best with an experienced conductor, those with previous conducting experience and nonmusicians best do so with a novice conductor (Luck and Sloboda, 2007). Wöllner et al. (2012) report that musicians synchronized well with individual conductors, however, both musicians and nonmusicians were able to synchronize with a quantitatively averaged typical conducting pattern. While consistency and accuracy in timing was an attribute of clarity and quality, individual conductors appeared to be more expressive than quantitatively averaged prototypical gestures. Obviously, musicians, particularly those who play in large ensembles, are accustomed to the task of synchronizing with various conductors’ beating styles. While time is a factor in the acquisition of musical expertise, expert musicians’ own bodily gestures seem not to change much over time.

Changes in Musicians’ Bodily Gestures over Time

In some ways, solo musicians’ bodily gestures appear to be quite stable over time. Comparing performances of the same work separated by 6 months, Davidson (2007) notes that while expressive movements and locations were similar over time, the pianist drew movement types for use from his repertoire in a flexible manner. This resonates with the notion that although rehearsed, every performance is unique (Chaffin, Lemieux and Chen, 2007). The spontaneity of gestures observed could also reflect the musician’s response to a moment of heightened subjective experience, or a recovery from error. Consistency observed of bodily gestures over time points to invariants of the performance, such as the score. Consistent bodily gestures may also represent embodied thinking involved in retrieving conceptual and motoric programs from memory. Chaffin and Imreh (2002) report that after 2 years, expressive performance cues—reflecting the chunking of information into a hierarchical layer higher than basic (movement) performance cues—were effective for accurately recalling a previously memorized solo musical work. Therefore, it is plausible that solo musicians’ (p. 582) bodily gestures likely reflects interplay between characteristics of the individual, the performance moment, as well as the perceptual and cognitive processes associated with retrieving an effective performance plan from memory and executing it accurately. The same could also be surmised of collective music-making. However, in collective music-making, the interactions with others demanded of ensemble musicians suggest that nonverbal behaviors also develop over a more compressed time frame – the period of rehearsal.

As musicians come together to rehearse for performance, their gestures evolve. In intimately sized ensembles such as the duo, each musician adapts their gestures to become more similar to their playing partner (Williamon and Davidson, 2002). Where one player is more activated, the other increases their activity to approach a match with their partner (Davidson, 2012). Even in ensembles with more members, such as jazz sextet and classical string quartet, musicians attune their bodies and faces as they work toward producing cohesive and collaborative performance (Seddon, 2005; Seddon and Biasutti, 2009). Anecdotal evidence suggests that orchestral musicians too, deliberately seek out musicians within the larger ensemble who are best for them with which to coordinate musically, and gesturally. However well-rehearsed an ensemble, spontaneous gestures do occur. Spontaneous gesturing might serve an important function capturing ensemble members’ attention to recover from error. A gesture might also occur as a spontaneous response to the experience of a unique performance moment (Williamon and Davidson, 2002). However, ensemble musicians should be cautioned that unrehearsed gestures could also distract co-performers to the detriment of the performance. In sum, the rehearsal period in collective music-making is crucial for the successful transition from a collection of individual voices to a unified whole. During this period, musicians respond to, and adapt their sounds and gestures in an organic manner, by way of a variety of interactive processes.

The period of rehearsal itself is characterized by a mix of communicative processes. Playing, rather than talking, is a feature of professional chamber ensemble rehearsal (Murnigham and Conlon, 1991). Many others highlight how disruptive too much talk can be to the rehearsal process (Durrant, 1994; Price and Byo, 2002; Weeks, 1996; Yarborough, 1975). However, while experienced musicians can respond well to gestural cues from conductors, verbal instruction can be most effective for communicating musical expression, such as a change in dynamic level, for ensembles with a mix of musical expertise (Skadsem, 1997). However, even children from the very beginning of instrumental learning at school through to university level can benefit from instruction in conducting to recognize and respond to gestures (Byo, 1990; Cofer, 1998; Kelly, 1997). Therefore, methods of communication during rehearsal process must ensure they are both efficient, and effective for the particular size and expertise level of the group. However, given time and experience, musicians learn to recognize and respond appropriately to gestural cues as they play.

Communicating Through and With the Body in Performance

As musicians perform, their bodily and facial behaviors provide observers with a wealth of audio and visual information. The visual aspect of performance can be a powerful (p. 583) communicator, as well as influence what is heard. For example, vision of musicians performing communicates important information about expressive intentions to observers of solo (Broughton and Stevens, 2009; Davidson, 1993), and ensemble performance (Lucas and Teachout, 1998). It can also enhance quality assessments of performance (McClaren, 1988). Musicians’ expressive bodily behaviors can also influence what is heard affecting audience interest (Broughton and Stevens, 2009), judgments of musical elements (e.g., rubato (Juchniewicz, 2008), note duration (Schutz and Lipscomb, 2007), and judgments of emotion and music structure (tension and phrasing; Vines et al., 2006). Being able to see as well as hear the musician perform can result in heightened electrodermal activity—measuring the skin’s electrical conductivity and giving an objective indicator of emoional response—in a manner similar to the subjectively self-reported experience (Chapados and Levitin, 2008); although Huang and Krumhansl (2011) report that the style of the music being performed plays a part in the bodily behaviors with which musicians are preferred, by observers, to perform. Looking to conductors, the way that they use their body also impacts how both they and their ensemble are judged.

Highly expressive conducting can enhance expressivity judgments of ensemble and conductor (Morrison, Price, Geiger and Cornacchio, 2009; Morrison and Selvey, 2012). Similarly, the conductor’s approving facial expressions can enhance, and neutral facial expressions diminish, assessments of ensemble expressivity (Silvey, 2013). In terms of quality, Price and Mann (2011) report a match between that perceived of conductor and ensemble performance. However, judgments of the conductor do not always match with ratings of ensemble in the expected fashion.

A series of studies involving wind bands assessing quality (Price, 2006), and expressivity (Price and Chang, 2001, 2005) note mismatches between ratings for conductors and ensembles. For example, Price and Chang (2005) report that expressivity ratings for conductors videoed directing wind bands that had received the highest festival rating (superior) from expert judges, were significantly lower than ratings for conductors of bands achieving lower festival rankings. The attentional focus and relative inexperience of observers (Price, 2006), or the “snapshot” of performance belying the variety of embodied communicative processes covered in rehearsal (Price and Chang, 2005) may help to explain somewhat unexpected results. Therefore, while a significant amount of research indicates that musicians’ bodily behaviors affects observer judgments of their own performance, such behaviors appear not to reliably affect judgments of another’s, or an ensemble’s, performance.

As previously mentioned, the specific physical tasks that a musician has to perform shapes the bodily and facial behaviors in which they can engage. However, there are features of the way musicians use their bodies and faces, irrespective of particular task, that are communicative to the observer.

Features of Communicative Performance

Studies of instrumentalists and singers show that the head and face play an important role in communicating with the audience. Head movement characterizes and communicates different expressive and emotional intentions (Castellano, Mortillaro, Camurri, Volpe and Scherer, 2008; Dahl and Friberg, 2007; Davidson, 1994; M. R. Thompson and Luck, 2012). It can help to communicate patterns of tension and release in the unfurling performance (Timmers, (p. 584) Marolt, Camurri and Volpe, 2006). Head movement and facial expressions can also convey more elemental aspects of performance such as the size of a sung interval (W. F. Thompson and Russo, 2007). The simple act of turning the head and gazing toward the audience during performance can enhance audience perception of communicativeness, expressiveness, joy, and liking (Antonietti, Cocomazzi and Iannello, 2009). However, the demands of the music dictate the degree to which musicians can communicate with their bodies and faces. For example, technical demands associated with sound production can moderate the expressiveness with which musicians can be expressive with their face (Davidson, 2012; Di Carlo and Guaïtella, 2004; W. F. Thompson and Russo, 2007). Although the head might stand out as communicatively significant, the various regions of the body operate in an integrated, cooperative manner. Perceptual judgments are made on the basis of the body as a whole, when the information is available, rather than individual body regions (Davidson, 2002; Nusseck and Wanderley, 2009). Even though they do not need to use their body to produce physical sound, conductors’ bodily and facial behaviors are communicative in particular ways.

In making expressiveness and quality judgments about conductors, their movements and gestures, body position or posture, facial expressions, and eye contact stand out as communicative to observers (Morrison et al., 2009; Price and Mann, 2011). As with instrumentalists and singers, this indicates that all the bodily regions might be communicative in a holistic, coordinated manner. Each region may also be communicative in slightly different ways. For example, Wöllner (2008) reports finding that where the arms communicate information, the head and face convey expressive intentions, and are related to liking of the conductor. It would be expected of the arms to communicate information. However, it is interesting to note that the head and face are prime in communicating expressivity. Beyond communicating expressivity, conductors’ facial expressions also relate positively with various other evaluations such as conductor expressivity and perceived charisma (Wöllner and Auhagen, 2008), and confidence in the conductor, their overall effectiveness, and judgments of musical elements of the performance (Van Weelden, 2002). However, the perspective from which the conductor is viewed affects perception of elements one would consider important to optimal performance. Wöllner and Auhagen (2008) report that expressiveness, amount of information, level of arousal, and rhythmical dimensions were most highly evaluated when viewing the conductor from frontal and their left-hand perspectives. Given the significance of the head, face, and viewing perspective to conductors’ expressive communication, it is interesting to note that they are also skilled at encoding expressivity in their hand and arm movements.

Movement tracking methods enable conductors’ hand and arm movements to be quantified, and examined for changes in various kinematic attributes that relate to expression of the music and its communication. Obviously, every musical work has its own expressive profile, regardless of features it may share with many other works, such as form, tempo, and meter. The kinematic patterning of conductors’ hand movements can reflect the particular musical work being enacted (Maruyama and Thelen, 2004). But in addition to this macro view of the relationship between expressive bodily movement and a piece, there are particular movement features of the hands and arms that reveal how a conductor communicates expressivity to the observer. The kinematic hallmarks of conductor expressivity that observers are sensitive to, as Luck, Toiviainen, and M. R. Thompson (2010) report, are features of arm and hand movement such as increased amplitude, velocity, and jerkiness of movement. The notion of increased amplitude of movement being an indicator of increased expression is also noted in kinematic profiling of solo instrumentalists. (p. 585)

Through tracking the movements of soloists, studies show that increased, more ample physical movements are often the result as musicians play with greater degrees of expression (for example, Davidson, 1994; M.R. Thompson and Luck, 2012). This is akin to the range of gestures speakers typically make, matching their expressive or emotional state (Kendon, 1980). However, even when trying to play with minimized expression, tracking data reveals the persistence of some movement (Davidson, 1994). Yet at the same time, human perception can be oblivious to such movement. As Davidson (1994, 2002, 2007) notes, a certain “quality” needs to be present for bodily activity to be perceived as expressive. The fact that it is virtually impossible to eliminate expressive movement, even when trying to play without expression, indicates that: (i) it is difficult to inhibit a learned expressive motor program, (ii) naturally expressive bodily movements and gestures are crucial to the practicalities of generating performance as well as communicating expression, (iii) expressive bodily movement naturally occurs in reaction to the sounds the body is producing, or (iv) perhaps some combination of the three. Body sway is an example of one such movement that is difficult for a musician to completely eliminate from their performance, even if they try not to move expressively.

A regular body-swaying movement found in both deliberately expressive and inexpressive performance intentions possibly implicates its role in tempo regulation (Clarke and Davidson, 1998; Davidson, 1994; Keller, 2008; Wanderley, 2002). When musicians are physically restrained from moving, the expressivity of the performance, musically and visually, is diminished (Davidson and Dawson, 1995). Thus, natural expressive movement appears crucial in generating as well as communicating expressive performance. Davidson (1994, 2002, 2012) argues that body sway operates around a fulcrum, providing a center from which all expressive movement operates. Expressive movement therefore may be hierarchical with body sway acting as the primarily level, moving through to localized gestures in more distal bodily regions (see Davidson, 2005; Davidson and Correia, 2002). The more localized expressive gestures that are often observed, such as pianists’ hand lifts, do not occur continuously (Davidson, 2002), but predominantly at musician-determined locations (Shoda and Adachi, 2012). What might contribute to their appearance is not well understood as there are many potential causative factors. For example, gestures might be associated with music elements such as phrasing, or perhaps rhythmic grouping of notes (Wanderley, Vines, Middleton, McKay and Hatch, 2005). They might also reflect technical or physical demands dictated by the music, the instrument, or individual anthropometry (e.g., Bejjani and Halpern, 1989; Kim et al., 2010; M. R. Thompson and Luck, 2012) or perhaps interpretive issues (e.g., Davidson, 2007; W. F. Thompson et al., 2005; Wanderley, 2002). Thus, it is not easy to draw up a system of governing rules for when and how communicative gestures will occur.

Whatever the underlying mechanism, the styling of movement and gesture that is considered appropriate and evident in solo and ensemble performance contexts is also in part due to cultural convention.

Looking Across Cultures and Genres

The comparatively restrained style obvious in classical concerts contrasts starkly with the movements and gestures evident in jazz, popular, and even world music genres. For example, (p. 586) while it can seem unclear as to whether classical musicians do make deliberate attempts to communicate with the audience using their body, bodily activity is evident in coordinating and communicating with fellow musicians (Williamon and Davidson, 2002). Western singers across genres, on the other hand, can seem to deliberately try to communicate with the audience (Davidson, 2001, 2006; Davidson and Coulam, 2006; King and Ginsborg, 2011). While in the Western classical sphere it is not usual for the audience to actively engage with the performers, in jazz performance, interactions between musicians and audience are expected. For example, audience members clap to show appreciation of a fine solo. Such nonverbal interactions can spur performers on to greater levels of musical creativity, but may also impact in negative ways (Brand, Sloboda, Saul and Hathaway, 2012). Similar and contrasting conventions for performer communication and audience participation are seen in non-Western music performance.

In Indian classical music, a performer’s gesture, such as a head shaking movement, might be assumed by co-performers and then audience members, creating a moment of heightened collaborative musicking and shared bodily action (Clayton, Sager and Will, 2004). Comparatively, Japanese classical musicians are discouraged from exhibiting superfluous facial and bodily gestures that might draw attention away from the music’s emotional content (Malm, 2000). Thus, cultural convention and appropriateness seem to play a role in gestural styling, usage, and whether the audience takes an active role. Yet what appears to be somewhat shared across cultural contexts and genres is that glimpses of the “person” behind the “musician” emerge, and are displayed in bodily behaviors.

Personal Aspects and Social-Group Processes

In both classical and popular domains, musicians often display seemingly unconsciously, intimate nonverbal behaviors of self-stimulation. Rubbing the earlobe gently or flicking the tips of the fingers repetitively exemplifies self-stimulating or adaptive gestures. Davidson and Coulam (2006) report that a pianist-accompanist, working with solo singers, preferred to work with those that displayed more of these adaptive gestures, and judged their performances to be of higher quality. In the popular sphere, singers’ personal affective states can be evident in their nonverbal behaviors alongside concerns of presentation and management of the self, the performance, and the group (Kurosawa and Davidson, 2005). In a study of Robbie Williams, Davidson (2006) reports how the singer’s movements traversed self-simulating adaptors showing “intimate” states, “showing off” to his audience, as well as emblematic gestures. In essence, authentic emotional states “leak” through the “star” persona (Dibben, 2009). As Frith (1996) observes, the performer is negotiating multiple roles: the “star” persona, communicator and actor of a narrative, and the intimate self. This model could easily apply to performers in the classical domain as well.

Contrasting public and more private performance settings, the musician may “act” differently—the public performance demanding a “star.” In the classical sphere, Glenn Gould’s career is notable for his shift from performing in the public arena to only studio work. Accessing rare film of Gould’s performances spanning his career, Delalande (1988, 1990) reports and categorizes the types of gestures evident. While the public recitals feature smooth, flowing movements, the highly repetitive movements from the studio are often quite disconcerting to watch. Differences between “public” and “studio” performance gestural styles might demonstrate acknowledgment of, and presentation for, the audience.

The notion of presenting yourself to the audience is an important consideration because even before a musical note has sounded, performers are being assessed. For example Fredrickson, Johnson, and Robinson (1998) report how “excellent” pre-conducting behaviors enhanced, and “poor” pre-conducting behaviors diminished, assessments of conductor competency. When in the act of conducting, the style engaged in might be of little importance to the ensemble performance, but be crucial to how ensemble members consider the conductor. Price and Winter (1991) report an expressive conducting style involving frequent body movement, gestural and facial expressions, and group eye contact (cf. strict conducting, which involves the opposite attributes), having no effect on observers’ or band members’ audio-only performance ratings, but it had a positive impact on band members’ opinions of the conductor. Fascinatingly, gender biases also exist such that experienced conductors tend to be perceived as male (Wöllner and Deconinck, 2013). Thus, for both performers and observers involved in the social context of music performance, musicians’ bodily behaviors are crucial to processes beyond the music.

Successful group functioning is dependent on cooperative behaviors. The group engagement model explains how procedural justice and social identity underpins cooperative behaviors (Tyler and Blader, 2003). The processes and treatment experienced in the group impacts social identity—in which group membership shapes self-understanding—which moderates people’s engagement with the group. Of course quality leadership is paramount to optimal group functioning. Procedurally fair leadership can facilitate smoother group change processes (Tyler and Cremer, 2005). In the case of music ensembles, King (2006) reports student quartets with regular leadership appearing more stable, and to reach greater success. Yet within the group, there exist other roles, which ensemble members fulfill. While their nonverbal behaviors reflect a primary role (for example, the leader, joker, etc.), they may change roles, for example, to accommodate a colleague’s changing mood (King, 2006). Therefore, within the group, the individual is establishing and reviewing their social identity, and at the same time negotiating how they fit within the group dynamic.

Group interaction prompts both individual and group outcomes (Van Knippenberg and Hogg, 2003). Sometimes the individual and group-based agendas can seem slightly contradictory, yet a satisfactory outcome can be achieved. Davidson and Good (2002) report that even though tension and sexual politics might be in operation as a string quartet rehearses, the ensemble can still achieve cohesive and collaborative performance. Musicians’ nonverbal behaviors can clearly show how collaborative activities are underpinned by a fine balance between managing musical content and coordination, and personal dynamics for social group cohesion. Thus, musicians’ nonverbal behaviors are multifunctional. Another integral component to interpersonal nonverbal communication, also critical to consider as musicians work together or indeed as musicians interface with audience, is the issue of “proxemics.”

Proxemics, a field first studied by Hall (1963), refers to the use of our space, and how using it in different ways can contribute to feelings of anxiety or relaxation. Individual, cultural, and circumstance factors all have a part to play in how comfortable one feels standing or sitting in proximity to others. It seems logical that such issues would also be at play for (p. 588) musicians working collectively, and performing for audiences. The presence of others also can affect how music is perceived. For example, even the act of listening to music with others can elicit movements in synchronicity, although the prominence of a regular beat in the music facilitates greater synchronization (Desmet, Leman, Lesaffre and De Bruyn, 2010). Therefore, in sharing in music, whether making or appreciating, the presence and closeness of others appears to have an impact on the personal experience.


Through this chapter we have demonstrated the multitude of ways in which the body is crucial to engaging in and with music performance. Generating performance recruits a range of embodied processes from basic issues of motor control through to complex perceptual and cognitive processes necessary to coordinate, collaborate, and communicate with others. These processes serving musical action and interaction are overarched by generalities, as well as particulars of sociocultural practice. Thus, understanding how the body mediates music performance is highly relevant for a broad spectrum of interests. At one point on the spectrum, musicians can benefit from the application of research to their performance practice and pedagogy. At another, music performance offers a microcosm for studying human process, be it cognitive, social, or cultural. As the field is in its early childhood period, this is an exciting time for researching bodily mediated music performance processes. The expanding growth of interest in this area acknowledges the importance of recognizing music performance as embodied.


This chapter is substantively new, different to the one published in the 2009 edition of The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology. Less than 20% of the original contents of the chapter solely authored by Jane W. Davidson reappears here. Note the work has a new title and rather different focus.


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