Poster presentation - Psychology & Music @ Belgrade

I am going to present my latest results at Psychology & Music between the 26th and the 29th of October in Belgrade, Serbia 🌵

Poster: click me 😉

Accepted abstract: “What makes musicians infer teaching intentions?”


Perceiving specific pedagogical intentions is vital when learning skills from others. In pedagogical settings where teachers are supposed to convey useful information to learners, it has been found that teachers often modulate their behaviour for teaching purposes. For example, adults are likely to modulate their speech and action (e.g., slower demonstration and exaggeration) for infants to help them acquire skills (e.g., Brand, Baldwin, & Ashburn, 2002; Saint-Georges et al., 2013). Our previous research also demonstrated that expert pianists systematically modulated their sound in ways similar to infant-directed speech and action to teach musical expressive techniques such as articulation and dynamics (Tominaga et al., 2021, preprint).


Here we investigated whether the modulations that expert pianists produce when they intend to teach are also perceived by listeners as conveying pedagogical intentions.


Participants who had at least six years of musical training were included for data analysis (Experiment 1: N = 20, Experiment 2: N = 20). They listened to piano recordings where a musical expressive technique concerning either articulation or dynamics was implemented. Half of the recordings was produced in a setting where pianists were instructed to play as if they were teaching the designated musical technique in a lesson, whereas the other half was produced in a setting where pianists were instructed to play as if they were performing it in a concert. After listening to each recording, participants were asked to judge whether or not each recording had been produced to teach a designated expressive technique related to articulation or dynamics. We performed correlation and multiple regression analysis to investigate which features of piano performance made musicians infer teaching intentions.


When pianists played a simple musical scale (Exp 1), slower tempo contributed to musicians’ judgments as teaching. Performances with exaggeration of each technique (e.g., longer legato, shorter staccato for articulation; larger contrast between forte and piano for dynamics) were also more likely to be judged as teaching. When pianists played a more naturalistic piece (Exp 2), only performances with exaggerated dynamics were more likely to be judged as teaching.


Taken together, modulations of loudness (dynamics) seem to be reliably used to infer teaching intentions regardless of the complexity of a musical piece. Typical pedagogical behaviour such as slowing down may not necessarily be perceived as teaching when it comes to complex skills involved in artistic expression. We believe that these findings can contribute to discussions on music education because the sound itself potentially conveys pedagogical intentions to learners even in the absence of verbal instructions.


Brand, R. J., Baldwin, D. A., & Ashburn, L. A. (2002). Evidence for “motionese”: Modifications in mothers’ infant-directed action. Developmental Science, 5(1), 72–83.

Saint-Georges, C., Chetouani, M., Cassel, R., Apicella, F., Mahdhaoui, A., Muratori, F., . . . Cohen, D. (2013). Motherese in Interaction: At the Cross-Road of Emotion and Cognition? (A Systematic Review). PLOS ONE, 8 (10), e78103.

Tominaga, A., Knoblich, G., & Sebanz, N. (2021). The sound of teaching music: Expert pianists’ performance modulations for novices. PsyArXiv.

Keywords: teaching, intention, skill transmission, musical expression