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Expert pianists make specific exaggerations for teaching

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Abstract: Experts modulate their performance of actions for teaching purposes, performing slower and exaggerated movements when demonstrating novel actions to novices. The present study asked whether such modulations also occur during teaching performance of a music instrument, where subtle movement modulations are crucial for achieving artistic expression. While exaggerating performances of goal-directed actions outside of artistic contexts may be straightforward, it is an open question whether and how exaggeration for the purpose of teaching operates for actions that are expressive even when performed outside of a teaching context. Pianists were asked to demonstrate to students the techniques required for implementing notated expressions, compared to performing the piece without didactic intentions. Expressions in the piece concerned either articulation (i.e., legato and staccato) or dynamics (i.e., forte and piano). The pianists played either with the goal to perform the piece to an audience or with the goal to teach the respective techniques to novices. When intending to teach articulation, skilled pianists produced more exaggerated staccato. When intending to teach dynamics, they created a larger contrast between forte and piano. We found consistent results across a simple musical scale (Experiment 1) and a more naturalistic piece of music (Experiment 2). These findings show that teaching-specific action modulations generalise to expressive actions and suggest that action modulations serve to highlight the most relevant aspects of the actions to be learnt.

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