Characterising musical gestures

Ben-Tal, Oded (2012) Characterising musical gestures. Musicae Scientiae, 16(3), pp. 247-261. ISSN (print) 1029-8649


Despite the widespread use of the term gesture in writings about music, the term is not defined in most musical dictionaries. Moreover, as this paper shows, the term is employed by different writers in a wide variety of ways. One common use of the term refers to sonic instances that are close analogies of physical gestures. These could be termed expressive unit gestures which, like physical gestures, are perceived as a short, unified, expressive events. To enable a more detailed study of these, this paper outlines a systematic approach to their description in the hope that these will open possibilities for a more detailed study of this aspect of musical gestures. The HamNoSys notation was developed for the systematic description of sign language. Gestures of sign language are notated through a systematic profiling of the actions involved (hand shapes, movement types, etc.). By analogy a musical gesture can be described through its auditory properties such as accent patterns, pitch contour, register, and so forth. This paper suggests that studying these expressive unit gestures offers a way of linking the dynamics of the music with expressive potential and can, therefore, contribute to an experiential account of music; could lead to new methods of investigating listeners engagement with music; and could potentially offer new ideas in the field of music information retrieval.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page