The role of acoustical cues in decoding emotion from performance expression and compositional structure

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Emotional meaning can be communicated through performance expression and compositional structure. In this study, we assessed the capacity of musicians to communicate emotions through both these channels separately as well as combined. Three expressive conditions were created: performed only, composed only and performed and composed. To assess the role of performance expression, eight musicians performed emotionally neutral compositions with the intention to express the emotions of anger, fear, happiness, sadness, tenderness and neutral. They then composed melodies with the intention to express the same six emotions, controlling the number of notes. These melodies were put into MIDI format to create stimuli with neutral performance expression where only pitch and rhythm cues were available. Finally, musicians performed their own compositions. Performances were presented to 42 listeners who made forced choice judgements of the emotion conveyed. An acoustic analysis on the musical stimuli was conducted to identify the attributes used by musicians to convey emotion and by listeners to identify emotion. Results indicated that emotional decoding was dependent on emotion and expressive condition. The acoustic analysis confirmed that compositional structure and performance expression access somewhat different emotional cues.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 11th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition
EditorsS. M. Demorest, S. J. Morrison, P. S. Campbell
PublisherUniversity of Washington Press
ISBN (Print)9781876346621
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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