February 5, 2023

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Listening is important to becoming a musician

In the study of music, listening to the sound produced during the study plays a crucial role, in addition to focusing on kinesthetic practice as we have already known. This is the result study Conducted by Maria Giovanna Luciani, Alessandra Cortellazzo and Alice Madu-Prooferbio and published in Scientific reports 17 last November.

I hear

“The importance of intense practice and repetitive and constant motor exercises are already very common concepts, since knowing how to play is still a procedural (motor) skill,” he explains. Alice Madu Proverbio (Neuroscientist in the Laboratory of Cognitive Electrophysiology at the Department of Psychology at the University of Milan Bicocca), whom we contacted. What emerges is that the role of listening while studying (which seems paradoxical when creating music) is still minimal. Acoustic feedback has been found to be particularly important for inexperienced students learning music. […] Indicates how sounds are closely related to motor gestures.

The main results are shown in the chart above. Errors decrease if one proceeds from sight reading (without previously studying the passage) to a study based solely on listening via headphones, and again if the study is conducted on a silent machine (hence a motor-only study) and then decrease again with a complete study. “The highly correlated data collected on 115 musicians of different ages and backgrounds, who did not know each other, and who lived in very distant Italian regions (particularly Veneto and Sardinia), led to very interesting statistical analyses,” says Proverpio.

An interesting aspect of the results is the calculation of errors and how their types differ in different study conditions. Four possible groups of errors have been identified:

  1. Wrong or out of tune notes
  2. Wrong rhythm figures
  3. “Dynamics” errors (piano, forte, stress…), from “agogics” (i.e. temporal expansion) and “expression” (staccato, legato, pizzicato, puntato, cadenza, slowing, ritornello, …)
  4. Lack of smoothness, fluidity, and regularity in implementation (stumbling blocks, interruptions, repetitions)
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I hear

Above are two inverse graphs, both of which show how the number of errors varies with the type of error and study conditions. It is clear, of course, that implementation at first glance (that is, in fact without study) produces more errors than others. Sharp drop in errors from before softness (Softness, fluidity, …) can be seen if students study fully (this is obvious) but also by practicing the movements without listening to the sound produced. On the other hand, rhythmic errors were reduced regardless of study status. There is a bit of variance in ‘dynamics’, with the best performers being those who have studied thoroughly (obviously), but also by just listening. Instead, the errors in the notes are more distributed: in addition to the full study (which, as usual, performs better), listening also improves the reduction of errors compared to first life alone, and motor activity still helps a little.

We ask Alice Madu like: How were the errors calculated? “The number of errors associated with a given performance by an individual student was represented by the average errors reported by the teachers. When a given musical note/gesture simultaneously contained two or even three types of errors (eg intonation, rhythm, dynamics), the rater Install all three types of errors on the evaluation network ».

How were the participating musicians selected?

The participants were 59 piano and 56 guitar students (63 males and 52 females) between the ages of 11 and 32, mostly from conservatories. To study the effects of these four types of practice, it was first divided into three levels (beginner, intermediate, and expert), and confirmed by an initial session of executing a specific piece for each level. After that, everyone studied a piece for each experimental case for 12 minutes a day for five days, then recorded the piece on video and handed it over to the committee, which calculates the errors without knowing the study case. “The videos were saved with an alphanumeric code and only after the entire evaluation process were they linked to the specific experimental condition,” Proverbio explains. When the study was conducted with headphones only (and therefore without physically moving fingers), he was asked not to read the result. All this was repeated for each student for each case study with a different piece chosen at random (always respecting the level of preparation) from among the previously selected pieces. Obviously, the ideal experimental situation would be one in which each participant forgets what he or she has done and carries out the study in four different ways, always with the same clip.

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Clearly, write the authors, one of the study’s limitations comes from the fact that there is no “objective control for students’ practice during the weeks,” perhaps partially offset by the fact that, as the saying goes: “teachers and parents were in close contact with the experimenters.” The students were personally supervised and employed by their teachers in the academies.Therefore, they were not in an anonymous and uncontrolled context.Moreover, they knew that their performance would be assessed by two unrelated teachers.They were aware and proud that the Conservatoire and their teachers were participating in a project He continues: “Since their participation included five meetings, recording sessions, a month of study, the attention of their teachers and other tokens, and it was completely free (unrewarding!) We have no reason to believe that the young musicians participating in the study were not motivated by the intention to be collaborative And as conscientious as possible.”

It is also reasonable to consider that the results could have been different using other types of instruments, which have different playing techniques. In fact, for example, pianists made more mistakes than guitarists on average in this study.

Move over…and listen

This empirical evidence can, and perhaps should, be shared with teachers of music, given that listening is “sometimes unfairly neglected in teaching, which places more emphasis on developing agility and motor dexterity (for example, playing quickly on jitters or scales, or other of techniques). What is interesting, in fact, is that beginner students, who have 3 or 4 years of study, are more affected by the absence of hearing practice, compared to the more experienced, who «learn to anticipate auditory consequences. Finger movements on the instrument while playing. This is why, Proverbio continues, “Similar to what we have previously observed on the violinists and pianists of the Milan Conservatory, three years of academic music studies seem largely insufficient to develop a vocal-motor system. Feed forward able to predict the auditory outcome based on proprioceptive signals (i.e. sensations that come from muscles and tendons) ».

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In short, the study of music should not ignore the importance of listening, especially in the beginning. Proverbio wants to conclude: «Studies of gene transcription show that genes that encode music (for example alpha-synuclein or the GATA2 gene) are expressed above all while listening to music in musicians; Therefore musicians are not born but become one through intense study and listening.”