Doing without thinking? Processes of decision-making in period instrument performance

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Copyright: Bangert, Daniel
The performance of a musical work involves making many decisions about the notated score. This study explores the nature and role of intuitive and deliberate processes of musical decision-making in period instrument performance of solo Baroque string music. This research uses dual process theories of cognition as a conceptual framework to examine issues of Baroque performance practice and interpretation. A threefold approach to data collection was employed. In the first study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with leading Baroque violinists and cellists, focusing on the solo works of J.S. Bach. A high proportion of deliberate decision-making was found (60% overall) although this varied considerably between individuals. Performers described their interpretation of these pieces as being influenced by various factors and provided insights into how elements of the interpretative process such as intuition are experienced and defined. The participants in the second study were Baroque violinists of varying levels of expertise who were asked to sight-read, practise and perform a short piece of unfamiliar solo Baroque violin music. Retrospective verbal reports were collected after both the sight-read and performance and participants were asked to ‘think-aloud’ during the practice period. A small proportion of deliberate decision-making was found (18% overall) and experienced performers were found to use deliberate processes to a greater extent than less experienced performers. The third study traced the preparation process involved in recording the Suites for Solo Cello by J.S. Bach through a longitudinal case study of Baroque cellist Daniel Yeadon. This study demonstrates how an interpretation develops over time and found a large proportion of deliberate decision-making (65% overall). The results largely confirm the characteristics of intuitive and deliberate decision-making as described in recent psychological literature, such as the importance of pattern recognition in intuitive processes. The relatively low proportion of deliberate decision-making in the second study can be explained by the use of a sight-reading task and a more implicit measure of decision-making. Based on data from the three studies, a spiral model is proposed to account for changes in the contribution of intuitive and deliberate decision-making over time, including the process by which intuition becomes ‘informed.’
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Bangert, Daniel
Fabian, Dorottya
Schubert, Emery
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PhD Doctorate
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