Proceedings of CSCL '97: The Second International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, December 10-14, 1997, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

By Rogers Hall; Naomi Miyake et al. | Go to book overview

Emergent Global Cueing of Local Activity: Covering in Music

Nick V. Flor Graduate School of Industrial Admin. Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA 15213 flor+@cmu.edu


Abstract

We explore the function of non-institutionally provided external resources that people working in groups rely on to sequence and synchronize pre- learned actions. Through longitudinal observations of a music group learning to cover (i.e., play) other groups' songs, and an analysis of the computational requirements for song covering, we show how simultaneous group activity creates -- as a side- effect -- emergent structures that can sequence individual behavior. In short, local activity creates global cues that can then direct local action. We argue that this is not specific to music groups, but that global cues emerge in any simultaneous group activity in which individuals have access to others' on-going performances. We discuss the importance of our results for distributed cognition research, learning in group contexts, and for the design of technological support for collaborative learning.


Introduction

Between routine performance and problem solving lies a class of activities that require a person to execute a set of pre-learned actions in a specific sequence. A musician playing a piece of sheet music, a person assembling a new bike, or a pilot doing a pre-flight checklist, are all examples of such activities. The individual or group engaged in these kinds of tasks presumably knows how to perform each step, but not necessarily the order of steps. Institution-provided external representations, such as a checklist, music sheet, or recipe are important resources that help people sequence their operations. But as highly adaptive agents, individuals are bound to discover resources and practices which vary from institutionally specified ones. For instance, Kirsh ( 1995) describes some ways in which cooks spatially layout their ingredients to keep track of what they have and have not done. Hutchins ( 1995b) and Norman ( 1992) describe numerous examples of non- institutional resource usage among aviators. Within any given domain, we would expect to find such uses of external resources. But are there domain-invariant external resources that individuals can rely on? We

Paul P. Maglio IBM Almaden Research 650 Harry Road, NWED-B2 San Jose, CA 95120 pmaglio@almaden.ibm.com.

sought an answer to this question by studying the activities of a rock band learning to cover1 popular songs. We found not only a variety of non- institutional resources used but also domain-invariant ones. Specifically, covering songs in a group produces emergent sequence cues; in performing local actions, group members produce as a side-effect sequence cues for other group members. Thus, we have a dialectical process in which global cues emerge from local activity, and in turn feed back to help sequence local activity. This finding has both theoretical implications for distributed cognition research and practical implications for learning in group contexts.

Our report is structured as follows. First, we provide background information, describing relevant cognitive research, as well as a summary of our methods and the music group studied. Our analysis then begins with a description of the general composition of a song. We use this description to analyze the cognitive demands song covering places on musicians who use no external aids. This analysis leads to several conjectures on how processes and representations might be distributed in the musician's environment to simplify the musician's cognitive task, and we show that in fact these conjectures hold true in the performance data we gathered. Finally, we discuss implications of this work.


Background

We position our study against two research areas: music cognition and distributed cognition. Music cognition research has primarily focused on individual musicians and models of individual music learning, improvisation, and performance. From this work we know that information-processing formalisms are sufficient to characterize the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic dimensions of music ( Simon and Sumner, 1968). We also know that musicians and music styles, such as jazz, have developed practices that minimize cognitive workload (e.g., Johnson-Laird,

____________________
1
Among musicians, the term "covering" refers to the activity of playing another band's song.

-45-

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Proceedings of CSCL '97: The Second International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, December 10-14, 1997, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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