Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception Institut Neurosciences Cognition Université Paris Descartes Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
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Perception of emotional expression in musical performance

Expression in musical performance is largely communicated by the manner in which a piece is played interpretive aspects that supplement the written score. In piano performance, timing and amplitude are the principal parameters the performer can vary. We examined the way in which such variation serves to communicate emotion by manipulating timing and amplitude in performances of classical piano pieces. Over three experiments, listeners rated the emotional expressivity of performances and their manipulated versions. In Experiments 1 and 2, timing and amplitude information were covaried; judgments were monotonically decreasing with performance variability, demonstrating that the rank ordering of acoustical manipulations was captured by participants' responses. Further, participants' judgments formed an S-shaped (sigmoidal) function in which greater sensitivity was seen for musical manipulations in the middle of the range than at the extremes. In Experiment 3, timing and amplitude were manipulated independently; timing variation was found to provide more expressive information than did amplitude. Across all three experiments, listeners demonstrated sensitivity to the expressive cues we manipulated, with sensitivity increasing as a function of musical experience.