Monitoring and Planning Capacities in the Acquisition of Music Performance Skills

By Palmer, Caroline; Drake, Carolyn | Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Monitoring and Planning Capacities in the Acquisition of Music Performance Skills


Palmer, Caroline, Drake, Carolyn, Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology


Abstract We investigate changes in cognitive capacities that occur as musicians acquire performance skills. Previous studies suggest that skilled behaviour is characterized by advanced abilities to monitor one's own performance or to plan upcoming events. We first report a study of child pianists (aged 6-14 years old) of beginning and intermediate skill levels who performed well-learned musical pieces. Computer-detected pitch errors in the performances provided evidence for skill-related increases in both monitoring and planning: Children with more musical training showed quicker detection and correction of errors, more anticipatory and less perseveratory behavior, and larger range of planning than children with less training. Next we report a study of adult musicians' advanced performances, which showed heightened sensitivity to melody and repeated pitch structures. Planning and monitoring capacities increased most during initial stages of musical skill acquisition, whereas sensitivity to musical structure increased across all skill levels.

Resume Nous avons etudie les changements dans les habiletes cognitives qui se produisent lorsque les musiciens acquierent des competences d' execution. Des etudes anterieures suggerent que le comportement specialise se caracterise par des aptitudes avances a controller sa propre execution ou a planifier les evenements a venir. Nous avons d'abord effectue une etude aupres d'enfants pianistes (iges de 6 a 14 ans), de niveaux debutant et intermediaire, qui executaient des pieces musicales bien apprises. La detection par ordinateur d'erreurs de tons dans l'execution nous a fourni la preuve de l'augmentation des competences, tant dans le controle que dans la planification; les enfants possedant davantage de formation musicale detectaient et corrigeaient plus rapidement leurs erreurs, demontraient un comportement plus preventif et moins perseverant, ainsi qu'une plus grande capacite de planification que les enfants possedant moins de formation. Nous avons ensuite effectue une etude d'execution avancee chez des musiciens adultes. Elle a revele une sensibilite elevee a la melodie et des schemas tonaux repetes. Les capacities de controle et de planification ont augmente davantage au cours des premieres phases d'acquisition de competences musicales, tandis que la sensibilite 'a la structure musicale a augmente 'a tous les niveaux de competence.

Although interview studies have addressed social and motivational factors underlying the acquisition of musical skill (Sloboda & Howe, 1991; Sosniak, 1985), there are surprisingly few empirical studies of cognitive factors (Bamberger, 1986). This article examines the cognitive changes underlying the acquisition of music performance skills. We examine child pianists' achieved skill levels during the first two to eight years of musical training, and we contrast the cognitive factors underlying their performances with those of advanced adult music performances. Despite the well-documented nature of skilled adult music performance (for a review, see Palmer, 1997), there has been relatively little comparison of child and adult performance skills. We focus here on three types of cognitive factors underlying skill acquisition in child and adult performance: monitoring, planning, and awareness of musical structures.

One hallmark of skilled performance in music, speech, and other complex actions is the ability to monitor, or to detect deviations from the intended behaviour and adjust for them. An example is a musician's recovery from a memory lapse during a public recital. Theories of monitoring have been proposed for language production in which speakers compare their own productions to their original intentions and detect any structural deviations (Boomer, 1965; Levelt, 1983). The function of the monitor is to create instructions for repair when deviations between productions and intentions are found. When trouble is detected, corrective action is taken, based on information to which the producer has access. …

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