Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

The Effects of Orchestration on Musicians' and Nonmusicians' Perception of Musical Tension

Academic journal article Research and Issues in Music Education (RIME)

The Effects of Orchestration on Musicians' and Nonmusicians' Perception of Musical Tension

Article excerpt


Investigators have successfully identified and measured emotional, aesthetic, and artistic responses to various musical stimuli (Aiello & Sloboda, 1994; Lychner, 2008; Madsen & Fredrickson, 1993; Sloboda, 1991; Sloboda & Lehmann, 2001). Through the use of equipment that allows for real time tracking of responses to music, researchers are exploring how individuals and groups perceive and interpret musical information as it is presented during the act of listening. Of these studied responses, the perception of musical tension has received considerable attention.

In one of the first experiments that continuously measured perceived musical tension, Nielsen (1987) had participants squeeze or release a pair of spring-loaded tongs to indicate their level of perceived musical tension in a recording of the first movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 104. While Nielsen found that no single aspect of the music was responsible for determining a participant's perception of tension, he concluded that there was a correlation among tension, thematic development, and dynamics. Madsen and Fredrickson (1993) replicated and extended this study by having participants manipulate a Continuous Response Digital Interface (CRDI) to record their perceptions of tension instead of the mechanical tongs. A high degree of similarity was found between the responses in both studies, suggesting that even though different devices were manipulated, musical tension could be measured successfully with the CRDI.

The acceptability of using the CRDI as a valid and reliable measure of music perception has been well established. Recent studies involving the CRDI have measured participants' perception of dynamics (Misenhelter, 2001), tempo (Crist, 2000), aesthetic experience (Coggiola, 2004; Geringer and Madsen, 2003), and preferences towards musical stimuli (Byrnes, 1997; Gregory, 1994). Scholarship supporting the ability of the CRDI to reliably gather continuous responses has been clearly documented (Geringer, J. M., Madsen, C. K., & Gregory, D., 2004; Gregory, 1995).

Research has illustrated that neither musical training nor age significantly affect listeners' perception of musical tension. Fredrickson (1997) reported that students in grades 2, 5, 8, 11, and 12 displayed similar patterns of perceived tension when listening to the first movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 104. When comparing these elementary, middle school, and high school students to university-level music majors who underwent the same research protocol, Fredrickson found similar correlations among all age groups. Fredrickson (2000) also noted no significant differences between adult musicians and nonmusicians' perception of tension when using western art selections composed by Haydn, Holst, and Shostakovich.

Most research concerning tension perception in music has involved classical music. In an attempt to determine if differences in tension perception could be found when using non-classical music, Fredrickson and Coggiola (2003) presented music majors and nonmajors with two stylized jazz recordings of St. Louis Blues. As found in previous studies involving just classical music, no noticeable differences between the two groups' perception of tension was detected, indicating that perhaps genres outside of classical music do not elicit dissimilar tension responses.

Individuals' perception of musical tension has also been shown to be unaffected by prior knowledge or performance of the presented stimuli. Fredrickson (1999) compared perceived tension responses between individuals in a university and high school wind ensemble who had rehearsed and performed Gustav Holst's First Suite in E-flat and students in a university choral ensemble who did not have the same performance experience. Results indicate that prior performance experience did not affect how participants perceived musical tension. Similarly, Brozak (2002) reported that instrumental music majors were no different in their overall perception of tension than nonmajors when responding to Percy Grainger's Irish Tune from County Derry. …

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