Poster presentation - SysMus21 @ Aarhus

I am going to present my latest results at SysMus21 (Systematic Musicology) between the 3rd and the 5th of November in Aarhus, Denmark 🌵

Accepted abstract (updated: 04/10/2021): “What makes listeners infer teaching intentions?”

Short Abstract

We investigated which features of piano performance make listeners infer teaching intentions. Musicians listened to a number of piano recordings where a musical expressive technique of either articulation or dynamics was implemented. They were asked to judge for each performance whether or not it had been produced to teach the designated expressive technique. We quantified performances with regard to tempo, articulation and dynamics. Overall, slower tempo led listeners to infer teaching intentions. Moreover, performances where techniques were exaggerated (e.g., longer legato, shorter staccato, larger contrast between forte and piano) were more likely to be judged as teaching.

Keywords: teaching, skill transmission, musical expression


Social learning plays a key role in human skill transmission. It has been known that experts tend to change their behaviour specifically for teaching purposes. Our previous studies revealed that expert pianists successfully modulated their sounds to teach musical expressive techniques such as articulation and dynamics. For example, pianists tended to play slower and exaggerate each technique when they had an intention to teach. Here we investigated whether such modulations that pianists produce when they intend to teach are also perceived by listeners as conveying pedagogical intentions.


The aim of the current study was to investigate which features of piano performance make musicians infer teaching intentions when listening to recorded performances.


20 participants, who had on average 11.85 years of musical training and were familiar with musical expressive techniques of articulation and dynamics, were included for data analysis. Participants listened to a number of piano recordings and were asked to judge whether each recording was performed for teaching purposes (e.g., in a lesson / teaching) or as a part of a performance (e.g., in a concert / performing). They responded by pressing either a yes (teaching) or no (performing) button. One musical excerpt was selected as a stimulus, which was performed by different pianists with two different musical expressive techniques. Half of the recordings were performed with articulation, which consisted of legato and staccato whereas the other half were performed with dynamics, which consisted of forte and piano. We characterised performances with regard to tempo (interonset intervals), articulation (key overlap time), dynamics (key velocity) and dynamics contrast (key velocity difference). In order to determine which performance features create the impression of reflecting teaching intentions, we performed correlational analyses. Specifically, we looked at correlations between performance features of each recording and the percentage of participants who judged the recording as teaching.


Slower performances were more likely to be judged as teaching performances regardless of a particular expressive technique. For articulation recordings, performances with longer legato and shorter staccato tended to be judged as teaching. For dynamics recordings, performances with louder forte tended to be judged as teaching whereas there was no correlation between how softly the piece was played (i.e., piano) and participants’ judgments of teaching. Moreover, performances with larger contrast between forte and piano were more likely to be judged as teaching.


Our findings suggest that musicians infer teaching intentions by relying on specific performance features. In general, slower performances were likely to be identified as teaching. Also, performances with exaggeration (e.g., longer legato, shorter staccato, larger contrast between forte and piano) tended to be judged as teaching. These performance features are consistent with the sound modulations expert pianists make when they are teaching. This suggests that listeners may be able to identify didactic sound modulations by listening to recorded performances.