Variability and automaticity in highly practiced cello performance

Lisboa, T. and Chaffin, R. and Logan, T. and Begosh, K. T. (2007) Variability and automaticity in highly practiced cello performance. In: International Symposium on Performance Science 2007, 22-23 November 2007, Portugal.


Performance cues are the landmarks of a piece of music that a performer attends to during performance. While most aspects of a performance become automatic with practice, performance cues provide the musician with a means of conscious control of otherwise automatic motor sequences. Experienced performers strategically select the performance cues that they need to attend to during performance in order to achieve the musical and technical effects that they want. Previous evidence for this claim has come from practice and recall. This study examined effects of performance cues on live and practice performances. We recorded the practice and public performances of an experienced cellist learning the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 6 for solo cello over a two-year period. We measured bar-to-bar fluctuations in sound-level and tempo for 8 practice, 7 live, and 12 “lab” performances, the latter played with exaggerated, normal, or minimal expression. Expressive and interpretive performance cues were consistently associated with slower tempi and lower sound-levels. These effects were larger in exaggerated than in minimally expressive lab performances, and there were similar differences between the live performances. The effects suggest performance cues provide a way of controlling highly practiced performance.

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