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Exploring visual stimuli as a support for novices’ creative engagement with digital musical interfaces

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Visual materials are a widely used tool for stimulating creativity. This paper explores the potential for visual stimuli to support novices’ creative engagement with multimodal digital musical interfaces. An empirical study of 24 participants was conducted to compare the effect of abstract and literal forms of graphical scores on novices’ creative engagement, and whether being informed or uninformed about meanings of symbols in the score had any impact on creative engagement. The results suggest that abstract visual stimuli can provide an effective scaffold for creative engagement when participants are not informed about their design. It was found that providing information about visual stimuli has both advantages and disadvantages, depending largely on the stimuli’s visual style. Being informed about the meaning of a literal visual stimuli helped participants in making interpretations and gaining inspiration, whereas having information about abstract stimuli led to frustration. Qualitative data indicates that both forms of visual stimuli support creative engagement but at different stages of a creative process, and a descriptive model is presented to explain this. The findings highlight the benefits of visual stimuli in supporting creative engagement in the process of music making – a multimodal interaction domain typically involving few or no visual activities.

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Thanks to the chief editor and reviewers for their helpful suggestions, thanks to Chuanqi Zhou and Zhuowen Shi for their assistance in data collating, and thanks to all the participants and experts for their precious time.


This paper is funded by Sichuan Modern Design and Culture Research Center (MD22E016), National Natural Science Foundation of China (52175253), Humanities and Social Sciences Project of Chinese Ministry of Education (19YJA760094), Major Project of Sichuan Social Science Research Base (SC20EZD056).

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Correspondence to Yongmeng Wu.

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Wu, Y., Bryan-Kinns, N. & Zhi, J. Exploring visual stimuli as a support for novices’ creative engagement with digital musical interfaces. J Multimodal User Interfaces 16, 343–356 (2022).

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