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21-07-2017 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2018 Open Access

Psychological Research 6/2018

Communication for coordination: gesture kinematics and conventionality affect synchronization success in piano duos

Psychological Research > Uitgave 6/2018
Laura Bishop, Werner Goebl


Ensemble musicians often exchange visual cues in the form of body gestures (e.g., rhythmic head nods) to help coordinate piece entrances. These cues must communicate beats clearly, especially if the piece requires interperformer synchronization of the first chord. This study aimed to (1) replicate prior findings suggesting that points of peak acceleration in head gestures communicate beat position and (2) identify the kinematic features of head gestures that encourage successful synchronization. It was expected that increased precision of the alignment between leaders’ head gestures and first note onsets, increased gesture smoothness, magnitude, and prototypicality, and increased leader ensemble/conducting experience would improve gesture synchronizability. Audio/MIDI and motion capture recordings were made of piano duos performing short musical passages under assigned leader/follower conditions. The leader of each trial listened to a particular tempo over headphones, then cued their partner in at the given tempo, without speaking. A subset of motion capture recordings were then presented as point-light videos with corresponding audio to a sample of musicians who tapped in synchrony with the beat. Musicians were found to align their first taps with the period of deceleration following acceleration peaks in leaders’ head gestures, suggesting that acceleration patterns communicate beat position. Musicians’ synchronization with leaders’ first onsets improved as cueing gesture smoothness and magnitude increased and prototypicality decreased. Synchronization was also more successful with more experienced leaders’ gestures. These results might be applied to interactive systems using gesture recognition or reproduction for music-making tasks (e.g., intelligent accompaniment systems).

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