Without movement there would be no music. Movement of a player’s limbs and body produce the sounds from an instrument as well as help to synchronize and communicate with co-performers and audience. The skilled movements of musicians have been the focus of study and admiration for a considerable time (Ortmann 1929, (reprinted 1962, Bernstein 1967), while the focus on the movements having a more communicative and supportive role emerged later(Wanderley 2001, Dahl 2010).

Our aim with this review is to give a birds-eye view of the different aspects involved in musical movement. The field of studying movement in relation to music performance has grown tremendously since the 90ies. (Gabrielsson 1999, Gabrielsson 2003) Specifically in relation to music and motion, some of this work has been summarized in earlier reviews that tend to take a particular focus, for instance emotional communication (Kleinsmith 2013, Eerola 2013), collaboration between performers (Davidson 2009), or organization of movement (Palmer 2013). Our goal with this review is therefore to provide an overview where a larger perspective is taken, including several of the perspectives in aforementioned works. In this article, we will look at several approaches to the study of music and movement (such as experimental and qualitative studies) as well as the technology used, but in particular we will organize the review of published works as to the knowledge they have contributed on the different functions of movements in music performance.

The study of musical movements

Defining and categorizing musical movements

In our view, music in music performance can be categorized into the following

  • Sound producing movements

  • Sound modifying movements

  • Sound accompanying movements

  • Communicative movements

The sound-producing action is only one type of music related motion found in music performance. Another one is that of sound-modifying actions. As the name implies, these are also connected to the sound, but to the modification of sound rather than the production itself. I can illustrate this by using the simple instruments I have here now. So for example– so for the stick, it’s possible to change the characteristics of the sound by moving the other hand above the stick.

Musicians also have some other very typical movements, what we call sound-accompanying. We often find such sound-accompanying movements in the upper body of a performer, for example, in the head movements or upper-body swaying of a pianist.

Finally, we may also have a large group of what could be called communicative movements. These are often not connected to the musical sound at all, and may, for example, be how musicians are looking at each other during a performance or giving signs, more as the conductor movements, or even communicating directly to the audience through body language, or some kind of gestures.

Gesture is a term that has been used widely in recent years, our take on this is that a gesture is defined as an action that is used to express some kind of meaning. In linguistics, gestures are often used to describe actions with a very explicit meaning, for example, this.

An important element though, and why we are careful about differentiating between motion, action, and gesture, is that movements describe the physical properties that can be measured and recorded. Actions describe what we describe as one coherent movement sequence, but the actions themselves are mental constructs. Similarly, gestures are also mental constructs, and the meaning of a gesture is also highly dependent on our cultural background and the context that the gesture appears in. This is important to bear in mind when we carry out research on music related motion, so that we can differentiate between what we can objectively observe and what our interpretation is of those observations.

Davidson and Correia identify (Davidson 2002) several aspects that can influence perfomers’ movements:

  • Communication with co-performers

  • Individual interpretations of the music

  • Own experiences and behaviors

  • The aim to interact and entertain an audience

Approaches for studies

Qualitative e.g. (Davidson 2009) [Observations; video annotations; …]
Experimental e.g. (Palmer 2013) [Experimental lab studies; motion capture …]
Longitudinal [Not so much here?; Some work from Davidson with observations during rehearsal;
Palmer’s groups some learning; Wanderley repeated measurements ]

Timing control and entrainment
(Repp 2013, Repp 2005, Repp 2010)

Flamenco (Maduell 2007)

Movement measurement technologies in music performance

Something on history of motion recording technology?
Video Recordings
Optical methods; Suits; … (Burger 2013)

Larboulette and Gibet (Larboulette 2015) reviewed a number of computational movement descriptors that can be used for motion data. Their review includes both low level descriptor (velocity, acceleration) as well as hihger-level descriptors (e.g. flow).