The Effect of Body Motion on Listeners' Interpretation of Musicality

Essay 2015 7 Pages



1. Introduction

This article seeks to determine the effects of body movement on listeners’ perceptions of a performance and how this relates to their emotional experience. Studies continue to prove that cognitive, emotive, and communicative processes are elements in performing music (Routledge) and perception of physiological motion offers considerable information about intention and expression (Blake and Shiffrar).

Musicians often subconsciously move their bodies expressing a musical and emotional intention. In his doctoral thesis, Musicians ’ Body Movements in Musical Skill Acquisition, Matthew Rodger explains:

“As musicians become more technically adept, and develop a representation of the music, their movements become more emphatic, controlled, and embody musical qualities.”

This visual observation and information provides a type of communication between the audience and performer without auditory involvement. These silent movements are of considerable importance to an audience's experience, analysis, and understanding of the musical performance. The perceptual relevance of these ancillary movements has led some theorists to consider the role of body motion in music as a key component of communicative musical line (Godoy and Leman).

In a study, five subjects were asked to observe a series of four silent clips of a musician performing a solo work on marimba. This experiment was conducted in order to explore the importance of emotional intentions and how performers convey them.

2. Method


Prospectors used for this study are undergraduate music majors and non-music majors enrolled at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma. The categorical breakdown of participants included: 3 music students and 2 non-music majors, although all participants have some form of formal music training.


The researcher uses a video performance of percussionist Jisu Jung playing Six Concert Etudes for Marimba, by Peter Klatzow. Jisu Jung is an acclaimed percussionist capturing many awards including the Grand Prize at the 2003 Korea-US National, the CBS Youth Music Competitions in 2007, as well as the Seoul National University Competition in 2010. (Vic Firth) For the purposes of this study, the musical elements of style and overall expressiveness were chosen in four short clips extracted from the video for evaluation.


Each clip contains a different intention that the musician portrays to the audience: Sad, Happy, Fearful, and Angry. Unaware of which intention clip is presented, subjects were asked to rate the presence of each of the four emotions, 0 (absent) to 5 (obvious), and record the emotional content based on body movement during the performance. The following diagram was presented to each subject for recording purposes.

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Researchers present three different viewing method, showing only selected parts of the musician: full body, head and torso, and hands only. (Figure 1) By isolating certain parts of the body during a performance, it can be further analyzed as to where in the body prospectors gain clues for certain emotional and physical connections. Afterword, the numbers were gathered and calculated to find the average rating of each emotion portrayed in the given viewing method.

3. Results

The results (Table 1) proved that intentions of sadness, happiness, and anger successfully disseminated, whereas fear was not communicated as strongly. Large and smooth movements characterize happiness, whereas slow and small movements conveyed sadness. Anger was perceived with jerky, uneven motion. Viewing method had a surprisingly insignificant influence on the audience when rating these emotions, however ‘hands only’ had a lesser effect overall.

Within the results, happiness and anger are the closest in comparison to one another. Researchers discovered possible confusion between happiness and anger in the results. In the article, Expressing Induced Emotions Through Free Dance Movement, authors Hargreaves, Pieter-Jan Maes, and Micheline Lesaffre report that when presenting observers with point-light dance performances, anger was likely to be mistaken for elation, and vice versa. A possible explanation for this is the presence of high activation in both emotions.

This study proves that body movement alone is an effective way to communicate a specific emotional intent to an audience.

4. Discussion

Next is to explain how these emotional perceptions relate to the audiences’ emotions during the performance. With a growing number of studies devoted to investigating emotional responses to music, it becomes easier to answer the question of whether or not emotions can be induced by a musical performance with certainty. Conversely, the response to this question relies on how the term ‘emotion’ is defined. While researchers may disagree on the exact definition, they mostly agree on the components and characteristics of an emotional response. Juslin and Vastfjall (2008) describes emotion as “Relatively intense affective responses that usually involve a number of sub-components -subjective feeling, physiological arousal, expression, action tendency, and regulation - which are more or less synchronized.

Emotions focus on specific objects, and last minutes to a few hours”

Our auditory systems are capable of understanding and perceiving sounds of people around us from day to day. For example, an angry stomper approaching or a delicate child skipping by, and so on.

Movements like these trigger different types of emotions. Positive triggers bring up images of enjoyable memories just as negative responses are automatically associated with fright or anxiety. Body movements such as these are just like the ones used in a musical performance, therefore evoking certain emotions causing the audience member to ‘mimic’ the emotion internally. The introduction of sounds, (gestures) which traditionally trigger certain emotions (sudden, loud, extremely low register events), may by compositional design evoke physical response in performers then perceived by audiences. This process is referred to as Emotional Contagion.

Another form of musical relation is musical motion. Alexander Truslit explains this philosophy in Shaping and Motion in Music:

“To experience music fully, both the listener and the composer or performer must understand its most essential characteristic. This characteristic is the expression of inner motion, whose spontaneous manifestation in voice and movement formed the origin of song. This expression is the eternal driving force of music. In music, however, it is consciously shaped; inner experience and artistic form merge into an integral process. The artist's motion experience creates the form and gives it content. Creative and re-creative artists use various techniques for shaping their materials. The listener, who is liberated from technical concerns, must nevertheless carry out this shaping process internally to realize the full potential of music.”

Many theorists have said the sense of motion in music is an absolutely vital component of experiencing music. (Truslit, Repp) While it is unclear what induces the experience of music in motion, it is proved that listeners with a combined auditory and visionary setting have a higher chance of experiencing this dimension of musical relation over those who only have sound.

5. Conclusion

In this article, a set of hypotheses has been produced to aid future researchers in exploring the various ways music and the listeners’ emotions relate to each other. The reading also provides insight on the importance of body movement in a performance and how it can evoke certain emotions and musical intentions.


Blake, R. and Shiffrar, M. (2007). Perception of human motion. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 47-73.

Dahl, S. The Playing of an Accent - Preliminary Observations from Temnmb06Y& poral and Kinematic Analysis of Percussionists. Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers, 2000. Dahl, S., and Friberg. Expressiveness of a Marimba Player's Body Movements. 2002. Godoy, R. I., & Leman, M. (2009). Musical gestures: sound, movement, and meaning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Jonathan Hargreaves, Pieter-Jan Maes, and Micheline Lesaffre. "Expressing Induced Emotions Through Free Dance Movement." Springer. 2013.

Juslin, Patrik N., and Daniel Vastfjall. "Emotional responses to music: the need to consider other underlying mechanisms." Cambridge University Press (2008).

Leante, L., S. Dahl, and M. Clayton. Musical Gestures Sound, Movement, and Meaning. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Repp, B. H. "Music as Motion: A Synopsis of Alexander Truslit's (1938) Gestaltung Und Bewegung in Der Musik." Psychology of Music, 1993, 48-72.

Rodger, Matthew. Musicians’ Body Movements in Musical Skill Acquisition. Queens University, Belfast, 2010.

Silveira, Jason M. "The Effect of Body Movement on Listeners' Perceptions of Musicality in Trombone Quartet Performance." Academia.edu. Accessed December 9, 2014. “Vic Firth Video Performance: Peter Klatzow, "Six Concert Etudes for Marimba" Video, Web. July 8, 2014. Accessed December 7, 2014.

Figure 1

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Full Body

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Head and Torso

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Hands Only

Table 1

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effect body motion listeners interpretation musicality




Title: The Effect of Body Motion on Listeners' Interpretation of Musicality