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Auditory and sensory-motor integration in the acquisition and maintenance of skilled movements in musical performance

Final Activity Report Summary - ASIAMS (Auditory and Sensory-motor Integration in the Acquisition and Maintenance of Skilled movements in musical performance.)

Sensory-motor skills of musicians have some specific qualities. Learning typically begins at an early age in a playful atmosphere. Routines for stereotyped movements are rehearsed for extended periods of time with gradually increasing degrees of complexity. Via auditory feedback, the motor performance is extremely controllable by both performer and audience. However, refining movement patterns guided only by listening does not necessarily lead to optimal and healthy movement strategies.

The objectives of the project were to investigate the relationship between movement gesture and produced sound in percussion playing. By comparing healthy percussionists and players with a history of movement related disorders, such as chronic pain or musicians’ cramp, we aimed to be able to find what characterised an ‘appropriate’ and ‘healthy’ movement pattern.

To this aim, we compared movement, muscle activity and sound characteristics in eight professional percussionists, four healthy and four patients, as well as in one novice. We simultaneously recorded the movement of the arm and drumstick, muscle activity using electromyography, sound and contact force between drumstick and drumhead. The players performed single strokes at different tempi and dynamic levels. Although the movement patterns differed largely between players, there was some evidence of the ‘dysfunctional’ movement patterns as being more tense and rigid. In addition, we complemented the acoustical sound analysis with subjective listeners’ ratings of the sound. This was done in order to identify the sound characteristics which were mainly affecting the perceived expression.