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Passionate Appearance Enhances Musical Performance

Viewers, including professional musicians, more reliably picked the winners of music competitions when they watched silent videos of performances versus hearing the sound. Cynthia Graber reports.

Classical music competitions pit performers against each other. Obviously, the most important criterion for judges is sound. But that assumption needs a new…hearing. Because a player’s passion may be the best predictor of victory.

In a new study, nearly 200 novices had to choose the winners of 10 classical music competitions. Some heard a music clip of the top three performances. Others saw a video with sound. Still others watched a silent video. And the participants were more likely to choose the winner if they watched the silent video, in all 10 of the competitions.

Then professional musicians gave it a try. These judges also only reliably selected the winners from the silent video. Musicians selected the winner more frequently even when all they saw was an outline of the motion of the performers.

The researchers say the findings show that novices and experts make quick judgments about musical performances based on visual cues conveying involvement and passion. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Chia-Jung Tsay, Sight over sound in the judgment of music]

So next time you see a live concert, don’t close your eyes to focus on the music. You might be missing the most important part.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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