Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Instrument Timbre and Trait Attribution

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Instrument Timbre and Trait Attribution

Article excerpt

An instrument's timbre is one of the determining factors in the decision to play it. Previous studies have shown gender stereotypes of certain instruments, and personality differences among musicians playing specific instruments. The present study was conducted with 2 aims: first, to examine whether nonmusicians hold the same stereotypes of instrumentalists as musicians; second, to examine whether hearing a melody in different instrumental timbres influences trait attribution to the assumed performers. To examine the first question, 26 nonmusicians and 22 musicians (control groups) rated flautists, trumpet players, and violinists on a list of 10 personality traits. Nonmusicians rated trumpet players as less introverted and sensitive than flautists and violinists. Musicians rated trumpet players as tougher than flautists and violinists, and violinists were rated as more egocentric than trumpet players or flautists. In the second phase, 80 participants (experimental groups) rated fictional musicians after hearing the same melody played in the 3 timbres, presented in different orders. Results show that trumpet timbre led to significantly different attributions from flute or violin. Trumpet players were generally rated more extraverted, friendly, tough, and assertive, and less introverted, anxious, sensitive, and shy. Finally, comparisons between control and experimental groups showed significant differences in ratings. Results demonstrate the strong effect of hearing instruments' timbre on trait attribution. However, these effects were different for the different instruments. Whereas nonmusicians do not hold the same stereotypes of instrumentalists as musicians, hearing a melody in the 3 different timbres led to ratings in the direction of gender stereotypes.

Keywords: timbre, personality, musical instrument, nonmusicians

Timbre is the attribute of sound that allows the perceptual distinction between different instruments playing the same pitch at the same loudness level. Studies on timbre perception have mostly concentrated on the physical parameters of sound, such as the number and intensity of overtones, or attack and decay, for the recognition of musical instruments (Handel & Erickson, 2004; Iverson, 1995; Iverson & Krumhansl, 1993; Lakatos, 2000; Schel- lenberg, Iverson, & McKinnon, 1999). The present study sought to examine another effect of timbre: its association with personality traits. Previous studies have shown that voice timbre influences likability ratings and is related to personality traits (Spasova, 2011; Weiss & Burkhardt, 2010). The aim of the study was to examine a similar effect with musical instruments. Would the same melody, played in different instrument timbres, influence the attribution of personality traits to the performing musicians in nonmusicians?

Sensitivity to timbre is evident from infancy, and children as young as 2 months are able to distinguish between various instru- ments (McDonald & Simons, 1989; Trehub, Endman, & Thorpe, 1990). As children grow older, the sound and feel of different instruments become an important aspect in determining their at- traction to specific musical instruments, and to some degree pre- dicts future involvement with the same instrument (Abeles, 2009; Conway, 2000; Cutietta & Mercadoocasio, 2003; Delzell & Lep- pla, 1992; Fortney, Boyle, & DeCarbo, 1993; Gordon, 1991).

The connotations evoked by different instruments' sound qual- ities lead to the endowing of personality traits to the instrument, or the person playing it (Kemp, 1996). The association between an instrument's sound and gender is one important aspect of this phenomenon. Certain instruments, such as drums, bass, tuba, sax- ophone, trumpet, or guitar, are considered more masculine, while others, such as harp, flute, violin, and piano, are seen as more feminine (Abeles, 2009; Cramer, Million, & Perrault, 2002; Gris- wold & Chroback, 1981; S. …

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