Perception of tension in music: musicians versus nonmusicians [In Process Citation]
Journal/Book: J Music Ther. 2000; 37: 40-50.
Abstract: Music therapists are often highly trained musicians who deal with diverse populations, most of whom do not have formal musical training. Questions may arise regarding the issue of a therapist's ability to understand, and predict, the musical perceptions and preferences of a client when their own background is so different. The current work is a look at a series of studies using various musical stimuli and comparing responses of musicians and nonmusicians to perceived "musical tension." Subjects (N = 126) included adult musicians and nonmusicians as well as a case study of a father/daughter. All subjects listened to recordings through individual headphones and were physically isolated from other subjects to ensure individuality of responses. Subjects, whether adults or children, were given instructions telling them that they were about to hear a piece of music and that they would be using a Continuous Response Digital Interface (CRDI) dial to trace the musical tension they heard. No specific definition of musical tension was given to any of the subjects. In effect, individual subjects supplied their own definition, either knowingly or unknowingly, in the absence of a formal one. Results indicated that group perceptions of the points at which tension and its release were strongest are remarkably similar between musicians and nonmusicians (correlations ranged from r =.71 to r =.95). Within at least the western art music tradition the likelihood that perceptions of group responses to tension and release in music could be predicted is high. These data indicate that therapists, trained as musicians, might be able to predict with some accuracy the responses of their clients who are not trained musicians.