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The effect of tempo on pedal timing in piano performance

Abstract

The temporal coordination of hand and foot actions in piano performance is an interesting instance of highly practiced, perceptually guided complex motor behavior. To gain some insight into the nature of this coordination, ten pianists were asked to play two excerpts from the piano literature that required repeated use of the damper pedal to connect successive chords. Each excerpt was played at three prescribed tempos on a Yamaha Disklavier and was recorded in MIDI format. The question of interest was whether and how changes in tempo would affect the timing of pedal releases and depressions within the periods defined by successive manual chord onsets. Theoretical possibilities ranged from absolute invariance (variable phase relationships) to relative invariance of pedal timing (constant phase relationships). The results show that, typically, the timing of pedal actions is neither absolutely nor relatively invariant: As the tempo increases, both pedal releases and depressions usually occur a little sooner and pedal changes (release-depression sequences) are executed a little more quickly, but these effects are proportionally smaller than the changes in manual (and pedal) period duration. Since this may be due to unequal changes in peripheral hand and foot kinematics with tempo, it remains possible that there is invariance of either kind at the level of central motor commands. However, it is the peripheral timing that produces the acoustic consequences musicians try to achieve.

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Repp, B.H. The effect of tempo on pedal timing in piano performance. Psychol. Res 60, 164–172 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00419764

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Keywords

  • Phase Relationship
  • Motor Command
  • Acoustic Consequence
  • Temporal Coordination
  • Consequence Musician