Musical Expressivity


In class, we discussed our definitions of music. My groups definition was “music is a series of sounds and harmonies including tone and rhythm that serves a purpose such as expressing emotion. I think the definition we came up with perfectly encapsulates what music is. I really think that in particular expressivity should be highlighted. I thought our discussion in class about what determines levels of expression and whether computers can have a certain degree of expressivity was interesting. If I were to give my explanation of expressivity as pertaining to music I would say it is the art of performing music with emotional communication. I think expression of a piece of music really comes with the artist conveying the emotion that the composer was bringing in the piece of music. It is incredibly easy to play a piece of music by simply following the sheet music. I trained in the clarinet for ten years and expressivity was one of the things my clarinet coach really stressed. He would always say that clarinet players are so focused on the technical aspect of music. For me, getting the difficult rhythmic melodies and maintaining good tone were the biggest goals. I rarely thought of the degree of expression that I could show with my music which is crucial to music performance.

One aspect of the class that I thought was really cool to see was the motion capture videos of people playing the same song but with different levels of expression. Clearly with motion capture you can tell by the person’s movements which level of expression they are displaying. Hearing just an audio file of their playing makes it a bit more difficult to distinguish but there is still a level of emotion evoked in certain recordings over others. I think also having a certain degree of musical training can really help with identifying expressivity in music performance. It was interesting to see that many of us agreed on the expressivity of the individuals in the exercise.

I read this article on music expressivity from the American Psychological Association when I was taking this course because I was curious as to what research is being conducted into musical expression analysis. In the research article, they discuss that human music uses timing and amplitude as ways to distinguish different expressive intentions. This makes sense as most of our means of communication (speech, music) involve timing and amplitude. They say that musical expression involves communicating emotion and conveying a musician’s interpretation of the musical piece. I attached a video about how musician’s express emotion that I thought made some very interesting points.


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