Flexibility of expressive timing in repeated musical performances

Demos, A. P. and Lisboa, T. and Chaffin, R. (2016) Flexibility of expressive timing in repeated musical performances. Frontiers in Psychology, 7 (1490). ISSN 1664-1078


Performances by soloists in the Western classical tradition are normally highly prepared, yet must sound fresh and spontaneous. How do musicians manage this? We tested the hypothesis that they achieve the necessary spontaneity by varying the musical gestures that express their interpretation of a piece. We examined the tempo arches produced by final slowing at the ends of phrases in performances of J. S. Bach’s No. 6 (Prelude) for solo cello (12 performances) and the Italian Concerto (Presto) for solo piano (eight performances). The performances were given by two experienced concert soloists during a short time period (3½ months for the Prelude, 2 weeks for the Presto) after completing their preparations for public performance. We measured the tempo of each bar or half-bar, and the stability of tempo across performances (difference of the tempo of each bar/half bar from each of the other performances). There were phrase arches for both tempo and stability with slower, less stable tempi at beginnings and ends of phrases and faster, more stable tempi mid-phrase. The effects of practice were complex. Tempo decreased overall with practice, while stability increased in some bars and decreased in others. One effect of practice may be to imbue well-learned, automatic motor sequences with freshness and spontaneity through cognitive control at phrase boundaries where slower tempi and decreased stability provide opportunities for slower cognitive processes to modulate rapid automatic motor sequences.

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item