Perceptions of discrepancies between intentions and outcomes during music practice : differences among musicians with varied levels of experience and expertise




Hamilton, Lani Marie

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Errors are an inherent and necessary part of learning in all dimensions of human activity. In order to effectively encode and refine procedural memories, learners must experience attempts to accomplish goals, perceive discrepancies between the results of their attempts and their intended outcomes, and adjust their behavior to accommodate those discrepancies. The extent to which music practice results in positive changes in the quality of performance and extent of performers’ facility is in part a function of the precision of learners’ physical and auditory goals and learners’ discrimination of discrepancies between those goals and the outcomes their movements produce.

We designed three experiments to examine musicians’ perceptions of their own others’ practice. In Experiment 1, immediately after recording individual practice sessions, high school, college, and professional musicians listened to their recordings and pressed a computer key to mark moments of discrepancy between what they had intended while practicing and what they heard on the recordings; in Experiment 2, the high school and professional participants from Experiment 1 repeated the task 2 years later; in Experiment 3, high school and professional participants heard practice recordings of four other violinists’ practice (two artist-level experts and two competent students), and pressed the key each time they heard a discrepancy between what they heard on the recordings and what they would have intended had they been the practicer.

In Experiment 1, the mean rates of keypresses did not differ among the high school, undergraduate, graduate, and professional participants, although there were large within-group variances. When the high school and professional participants in Experiment 1 returned after 2 years and performed the same task with their original recordings, high school participants marked significantly more discrepancies, but the mean rate of keypresses among professionals did not increase. In Experiment 3, professionals marked significantly more discrepancies than did high school participants, but and the mean rates of keypresses within each group did not differ among recordings by professionals and high school musicians. These results are consistent with the notion that the precision of performance goals and the acuity of perceptual discrimination are central features of musical expertise.



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