Musical gestures

Musical gestures

Movement associated with music, either physical (e.g. body movement) or mental (e.g. musical imagery) are musical gestures. The concept of musical gestures has received much attention in various disciplines studying music (e.g. musicology, music psychology, NIME) in recent years.


The concept of musical gestures encompasses a large territory stretching from details of sound-production to more global emotive and aesthetic images of music, and also include considerations of cultural-stylistic vs. more universal modes of expression. In all cases, it is believed that musical gestures manifest the primordial role of human movement in music. For this reason, scholars speak of embodied music cognition in the sense that listeners relate musical sound to mental images of gestures, i.e. that listening (or even merely imagining music) also is a process of incessant mental re-enactment of musical gestures.

Acknowledging the multimodal nature of music perception, embodied music cognition could represent a change of paradigm in music theory and other music related research, research which has often tended to exclude considerations of bodily movement from its conceptual apparatus in favour of focus on more abstract, notation-based elements of music. Focusing on musical gestures provides a coherent and unifying perspective for a renewal of music theory and other music research.

Music-related body movement

A subset of musical gestures is what could be called music-related body movement, which can be seen from either the performer's or the perceiver's point of view:
* Performer: movements that are part of a music performance or a performance with music:
** Sound-producing: musician or actor that creating musical sound.
** Sound-accompanying: dance or other types of movements that are linked to music.
* Perceiver: movements that are an integral part of music listening:
** Directly connected: dance, air performance
** Loosely connected: running, training.
** Grooving: tapping a foot, nodding the head, etc.

Hatten's Musical Gestures

Robert Hatten (2004) has been using the concept of musical gestures to denote inner-musical qualities:

"Musical gesture is biologically and culturally grounded in communicative human movement. Gesture draws upon the close interaction (and intermodality) of a range of human perceptual and motor systems to synthesize the energetic shaping of motion through time into significant events with unique expressive force. The biological and cultural motivations of musical gesture are further negotiated within the conventions of a musical style, whose elements include both the discrete (pitch, rhythm, meter) and the analog (dynamics, articulation, temporal pacing). Musical gestures are emergent gestalts that convey affective motion, emotion, and agency by fusing otherwise separate elements into continuities of shape and force."


* [ Musical Gestures Group] , University of Oslo (Norway)
* [ Input devices and Music Interaction Laboratory] , McGill University

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