A NOVEL APPROACH TO TEACHING EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION IN MUSIC PERFORMANCE

Postgraduate

Introduction

“I see a lot of technical musicians, and very few of them seem to have that feel that goes along with it. They’re able to do technically a lot more than the next guy, but for some reason it doesn’t communicate…” Musician cited in Boyd and George-Warren (1992, pp. 104-105)

 

“Ah, expression! It’s what the majority of musicians believe music to be. Yet, for some unknown reason, it is rarely talked about.” Music teacher cited in Vosskuhler (2005, p. 1)

 

One of the most important aspects of music performance is the ability to play expressively (e.g., Juslin & Laukka, 2004; Laukka, 2004; Lindström, Juslin, Bresin, & Williamon, 2003) and thus to ‘move’ listeners (Juslin & Västfjäll, in press). An expressive performance is often what makes people prefer one musician over another, and it is expression that makes new interpretations of familiar music pieces possible. Most performers and listeners define musical expression in terms of communicating emotions (e.g., Lindström et al., 2003; Laukka, 2004). Thus, to master the skill of emotional expression in music is an important goal for a performer. Given the importance of expression in music performance, it is reasonable to expect that music teachers devote a lot of their time to developing this skill. However, on the contrary, there is some evidence that expression is neglected in music education (see Persson, 1993; Rostvall & West, 2001; Tait, 1992), perhaps because it is often regarded as a skill that reflects talent and thus cannot be learnt (Sloboda, 1996), or because knowledge about expression is mostly tacit and therefore difficult to convey in words (Hoffren, 1964).

The present thesis is part of a project, Feedback-learning of Musical Expressivity (Feel-ME), which aimed to define the nature of expression in music performance, and to develop new methods for teaching expression, particularly expression of emotions. The focus of this thesis is on the latter aspect of the project: Is it possible to develop a computer program that can improve a performer’s ability to express emotions? The thesis is based on three empirical studies. In Study I, the nature of instrumental teaching is explored in detail to elucidate possible problems with the current teaching. Study II presents and evaluates a new computer-assisted teaching method aiming to enhance music performers’ emotional expression. In Study III, various factors that may influence performers’ views on computer-assisted teaching of expression are explored.

The thesis is organized in the following way. Firstly, a background to the problems surrounding musical expression in music education and in earlier research is outlined. Secondly, a new empirically-based approach to teaching expression is presented. Thirdly, the specific aims of the thesis are stated. Fourthly, the three empirical studies are summarized. Finally, the findings from the studies are discussed.