The Pedagogical Value Of ‘Enjoyment’ In The Classical Piano Studio: A Research Report On A Transdisciplinary Study

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  • William Westney
  • Cynthia M. Grund
  • James Yang
  • Aimee Cloutier
  • Jesse Latimer
  • Michael O'Boyle
  • Dan Fang
  • Jianchang Hou

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Our research team was comprised of a pianist/teacher, a music philosopher, a mechanical engineer and a neuroscientist. Our work was funded by the Transdisciplinary Research Academy at Texas Tech University. The experiment was based on comparing two “modes” of musical pecrformance: one we called “correct mode” and the other “enjoyment mode.” These are the terms used in the instructions given to each pianist in the laboratory. The simple instructions in each case were to play a given piece in two ways: the first time “as correctly as you can,” and thes econd time “just enjoy yourself (whatever that means to you).” Because we had access to two advanced technologies, namely (1) motion-capture recording of body movement and (2) functional MRI brain scanning, we also had the ability to compare these performances empirically and with precision from different scientific perspectives.
The motion-capture recordings distill movement to its three-dimensional essence, and the measurements are made in precise coordinates. Thus, we could compare and chart how each pianist used his or her body when playing the same piece in each of the two contrasting modes. It is important to note that participants were not told anything about the study hypothesis, and no reference to gesture or movement was ever made in the instructions they were given. We were interested in observing, for example, whether a pianist in the Enjoyment Mode would inscribe a more generous arc with the arm when navigating a large jump from one pitch to another. Some would consider larger movements to be a sign of healthy and unconstricted technique. Another theory we wanted to test was that there might be more frequent little “micro” changes of direction in the arm or hand during the Correct Mode—a slightly jerky quality, one might say—due to a fussier over-controlling attention to note accuracy. If so, a case could again be made that there was better technique in evidence during Enjoyment Mode, since performers were less encumbered with those nervous little changes of direction that are very likely to cause muscle tension and fatigue.
Access to a brain scanner allowed us to go even further, however. Here the focus shifted from performance itself to perception—what could be perceived by others regarding performances in either mode. We wanted to know if subjects while in the brain scanner, watching the pairs of motion capture videos, would be able to detect differences between one mode and the other, and in what way. These pairs of videos each consisted of the same performer, same piece and performed in the two aforementioned modes. It should be noted that pianists in a motion-capture recording look like dot-line, stick-figure avatars, not fleshed-out persons; thus all that is seen is their quality of motion in its purest, most distilled form.
We wanted to know if the quality of “enjoyment” communicated itself from performer to audience and if there were perceived musical values associated with this quality. Therefore, each subject in the scanner had to answer a battery of questions after viewing each performance, and those responses were tabulated. We also monitored their brain activity during the entire process. Since we had recruited two categories of subjects—four trained musicians and four non-musicians—we were curious about how the responses and patterns of brain activity might or might not be different from one of these groups to the other. This aspect turned out to be among the most interesting results of our analysis.
SprogEngelsk
TidsskriftM T N A e-Journal
Vol/bind7
Tidsskriftsnummer4
Sidetal (fra-til)2-21
ISSN2152-7210
StatusUdgivet - apr. 2016