Poster presentation - SysMus19 @ Berlin

I am going to present my first results at SysMus19 (Systematic Musicology) from the 10th to the 12th of September in Berlin, Germany 🌵

Poster: click me 😉

Accepted abstract: “The Sound of Teaching Music: Experts’ sound modulation for novices”


Expertise is often acquired through intensive interactions between experts and novices and involves intentional teaching. The literature on infant-directed speech and action has suggested that specific action modulations (e.g., slower and exaggerated speech/action demonstration) might affect cognitive processes of learners, which could potentially enhance speech and action learning. However, little is known on the transmission of skills that require learning not only what to do (i.e., achieving particular action outcomes) but also how to perform actions with particular expressions.


In the current study, we chose the domain of music, where expressivity is a key aspect of expertise, and focused on expressive techniques to investigate whether experts systematically modulate their performance for teaching purposes. We asked expert pianists to perform a simple excerpt of music with two different styles of expression, articulation (i.e., legato and staccato) on the one hand and dynamics (i.e., forte and piano) on the other hand. They played either with the goal to perform it to an audience or with the goal to teach the respective techniques to novices. We predicted that experts would play slower in the teaching condition than in the performing condition regardless of the kind of the skills. When teaching articulation, we predicted that experts would exaggerate the skill (i.e., longer legato and shorter staccato). Also, we expected that experts would exaggerate the skill for dynamics (i.e., louder forte and smaller piano) during teaching.


20 expert pianists were recruited and had 14 years of experience in piano performance on average. In the performing condition, participants were instructed to play the excerpt as if they were performing it to an audience. In the teaching condition, participants were instructed to play the excerpt as if they were teaching it to students. It was also mentioned that the students already knew the sequence of the tones and were trying to learn how to perform the piece expressively by listening to their performance. We introduced interonset intervals (IOIs) to measure a tempo, key-overlap time (KOT) between two notes to capture the smoothness of sound (i.e., articulation) and key velocity (KV) to assess loudeness (i.e., dynamics) as dependent variables. IOIs showed that experts played slower while demonstrating articulation skills for teaching purposes, but not for dynamics skills.


As predicted, experts produced longer legato and shorter staccato in terms of KOT when teaching articulation skills. When teaching dynamics skills, experts produced louder forte whereas we could not find any difference in piano with regard to KV. Also, they made a larger difference in loudness between forte and piano when they had the intention to teach. These findings indicate that even though expert pianists play expressively when performing the piece to an audience, they are able to modulate their performance in systematic and fine-grained ways in order to teach expressive techniques to novices. Future research should examine how such didactic cues could be used by novice learners.