Nav: Home

The role of intuition in music performance

March 07, 2019

PHENICX, a project of the European Commission's 7th Framework Programme coordinated by Emilia Gómez, a researcher with the Musical Technology Research Group (MTG) of the Department of Information and Communication Technologies (DTIC) at UPF, has attempted to create new digital experiences to enrich the experience of a classical music concert (before, during and after the concert itself) from different areas in order to bring classical music to new audiences in an innovative way and via technology.

"One of the applications we investigated in the post-concert context were a type of facility in which the user takes on the role of conductor so that their movements "conduct" a virtual orchestra. This type of facility has been successful in places such as the House of Music in Vienna", says Álvaro Sarasúa, first author of a study published on 25 February in the journal Frontiers in Digital Humanities, directed by Emilia Gómez, both members of UPF's MTG, together with Julián Urbano, a researcher at the Delft University of Technology (Netherlands).

The authors used the conductor metaphor

In human-computer interaction, interface metaphors provide users with a way to interact with the machine that resembles a known activity and are widely used in digital musical instruments. In this study, the authors used the conductor metaphor. The interest in using these metaphors is so that the user, in a new virtual context (in this case, a facility in which to control the tempo and dynamics at which an orchestra plays), can apply their knowledge or their prior intuition about how a certain activity functions in the real world (in this case, conducting an orchestra).

"From the research point of view, in this study we were interested in determining how intuitive notions available to users of this kind of facility may be explicitly used by the system to respond to their gestures of conducting an orchestra more intuitively and, therefore, may provide a more expressive performance", says Sarasúa.

In the initial stages of the project, the researchers conducted observational studies where they asked people with different degrees of musical training to listen to several different excerpts of classical music and then, while the music was playing again, to make the movements they would have made conducting an orchestra to communicate various aspects of it such as tempo and intensity. They recorded the participants' movements using a Kinect camera, which recorded the position of various parts of the body.

Different interpretative tendencies could be seen in people

Analysis of these data revealed that different tendencies could be seen in people. On the one hand, to communicate the tempo of the music, there were people who consistently communicated beat somewhat ahead of the tempo of the music, while others did so in total synchrony or with some delay. Regarding the dynamics with which the instruments played, some people tended to move more energetically during the forte parts, while others simply raised their arms more.

Based on these observations, "our starting hypothesis for this study was that a system that allows controlling the tempo and volume of a piece of music by movements mimicking those of a conductor may be more intuitive if it can be adapted to these personal tendencies" explains Sarasúa

"In the example of our experiment, there is an "implicit" advantage by using the metaphor, in that by telling the user that they must "conduct" the orchestra, they know that they must move their arms and have some intuition as to their ability to control tempo and dynamics. Using the proposed system, this improvement is more "explicit" in that the system observes and analyses what the user senses they must do and adapts to perform according to these intuitions"

The authors refer to this strategy as mapping by observation, since mapping, or the way in which the user's movements are connected to the resulting music, specifically adapts for each user by observing what they do when asked to perform movements imitating a conductor without giving any specific instructions.

Two systems were compared on the basis of objective and subjective measures

In evaluating the system, the researchers had 24 participants who performed, first with a baseline system that did not adapt to each user, and then the system based on the mapping strategy, and they compared the results. This comparison was carried out in a context in which users learned to "conduct" the virtual orchestra through practice. The two systems were compared on the basis of objective and subjective measures on a series of tasks in which the participants had to make the orchestra play at different volumes and do so in synchrony with the metronome at different tempos.

The usability of the tailored system is better

The results of the experiment showed that the usability of the tailored system is better, both in terms of providing more intuitive control of the dynamics with which the user conducts the orchestra, and in terms of having more precise control over the tempo. Furthermore, the results also show a strong correlation between measures that can be drawn from the data used to make the adaptation and improvement introduced by the system, which indicates that it is possible to estimate in advance the extent to which the spontaneous movements of a particular user will be really useful to adapt the system to their style.

The findings of this study are particularly relevant in contexts where interaction is designed from using interface metaphors, as is the case of the conductor of an orchestra. "In the example of our experiment, there is an "implicit" advantage in using the metaphor, in that by telling the user that they must "conduct" the orchestra, they know that they must move their arms and have some intuition as to controlling tempo and dynamics. Using the proposed system, this improvement is more "explicit" in that the system observes and analyses what the user senses they must do and adapts to perform according to these intuitions", the authors conclude.

Universitat Pompeu Fabra - Barcelona

Related Music Articles:

Seeing chemical reactions with music
Audible sound enables chemical coloring and the coexistence of different chemical reactions in a solution.
Music on the brain
A new study looks at differences between the brains of Japanese classical musicians, Western classical musicians and nonmusicians.
We feel connected when we move together in time with music
Go dancing! A new study conduted at Center for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University, Denmark, suggest that then moving together with music, synchronous movements between individuals increase social closeness.
The 'purrfect' music for calming cats
Taking a cat to the vets can be a stressful experience, both for cat and owner.
Young people putting music to the crisis: the role of music as a political expression
On February 1, 2020, the journal Young is publishing a special issue on youth, music and crisis involving Mònica Figueras, José Sánchez-García and Carlos Feixa, researchers from the Youth, Society and Communication Research Group ( at the Department of Communication.
Music is universal
Exactly what about music is universal, and what varies? Harvard researchers have demonstrated that across cultures, people share psychological mechanisms that make certain songs sound 'right' in specific social and emotional contexts.
Why music makes us feel, according to AI
In a new study, a team of USC researchers, with the help of artificial intelligence, investigated how music affects listeners' brains, bodies and emotions.
The brain's favorite type of music
People prefer songs with only a moderate amount of uncertainty and unpredictability, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.
Watching music move through the brain
Scientists have observed how the human brain represents a familiar piece of music, according to research published in JNeurosci.
Storing data in music
Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a technique for embedding data in music and transmitting it to a smartphone.
More Music News and Music Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at