Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Music


Group music-making is a distinctive mode of human social interaction: it is a widespread activity that showcases the remarkable capacity for precision and creativity demonstrated in the coordination of rhythmic behaviour between individuals. Such coordination entails interpersonal entrainment, a process whereby two or more individuals interact with each other in a manner supporting the synchronization of body movements and musical sounds. Although musical entrainment is prevalent across the world's cultures, the way in which it is manifested appears to vary as a function of differences in social, ritual and musical conventions. A better understanding of the process of interpersonal entrainment and its cultural variation is therefore imperative. The main objective of this project is to investigate key aspects of interpersonal musical entrainment in a comparative study of a variety of cultural settings; it does so through the establishment of an international and interdisciplinary team, and by creating and analyzing a shared corpus of prepared and annotated performance data.

Understanding musical entrainment requires contributions from several disciplines, in particular ethnomusicology, music cognition and computing. This project combines perspectives from each of these disciplines: it focuses on better understanding of culture- and genre- specific variations in interpersonal musical entrainment, addressed through both objective measures of entrainment and investigation of subjective perceptions of this coordination, interpreted in the light of ethnographic information about the functions and effects of the music and local aesthetic values.

This ground-breaking, international and interdisciplinary project integrates three complementary approaches. First, we will apply and extend existing methods for the empirical study of interpersonal coordination in music-making. We will emphasize methods for analysing audio and video recordings, in order to carry out comparative analyses from several contrasting cultural settings - including India, Mali, Tunisia, Uruguay and Cuba - rather than being limited to laboratory studies. Secondly, we will conduct a series of experiments to measure listeners' perceptions and judgements of temporal coordination in recorded music extracts. The aim here is to measure both observers' sensitivity to variations in coordination, and their preferences, and to explore how these measures vary between cultures. Finally, we will explore all of these measures in relation to qualitative culture-specific factors: for instance, differences in preference for close coordination as opposed to individual freedom in group activities. The integration of these research strands will give us a much clearer picture of the shared and culturally-varying components of interpersonal musical entrainment.

This collaborative research model is essential if we are to make properly informed comparative studies of a number of contrasting music cultures, and do so with a firm grounding in ethnomusicology, music cognition and the latest computational techniques in video and time series analysis. The aim is both to achieve a step-change in our understanding of musical entrainment - and therefore of social interaction and interpersonal coordination in general - and, by doing so, to establish long-term, international and interdisciplinary research collaborations bridging ethnomusicology, music cognition and computing.

Planned Impact

The main groups of beneficiaries we see at this stage are as follows:
1. The general public and selected event organisers and media organisations concerned with popular science. By engaging members of the public with important questions such as "How do people play music together?" with the help of illustrations and interactive games and apps, we will communicate messages such as:
a) Playing music together is possible thanks to a range of capacities shared by almost all humans, many of which are unique to humanity
b) Whether music sounds good, and feels good to the players, depends on a range of social and personal factors - and these factors can vary, so what sounds good depends on where you come from
We will engage with suitable venues, events and media bodies, and through them with members of the public with an interest in popular science/ psychology and music.

2. Academics and companies interested in developing interactive games and apps applying entrainment research. Such apps would be designed to develop music training and creation tools that facilitate, or draw inspiration from, kinds of interpersonal coordination that may be unfamiliar in a particular cultural context.
Another possible application is to diagnose coordination problems such as deficits in the ability to follow a beat (and the underlying issues that may cause such deficits) and to train users to counteract these difficulties. The main messages to get across to these stakeholders are:
a) We know that the capacity to follow a beat is important and that training clinical populations to move to a musical beat can help people overcome a variety of debilitating conditions (e.g., associated with stroke and Parkinson's disease). However, the variety of ways in which people can coordinate their actions needs to be better understood as this can potentially open up a wider range of clinical applications, e.g. therapy and rehabilitation systems for autistic children and for children suffering from cognitive and/or motoric disabilities.
b) In the field of music training and creation tools, we need to communicate clearly the underlying dynamics of musical coordination, which will open up many new possibilities: for instance, music creation tools that do not simply control beat and tempo but allow virtual rhythmic 'agents', including robots, to interact in controllable ways.
We will present our work to academics and software designers working in these fields, with the aim of stimulating this kind of development.

In both cases, part of our engagement strategy will be to develop simple entrainment apps (e.g. games that encourage players to perform musical tasks in time with one another and give visual feedback on performance). Engagement activity will take place in the UK, Australia and Italy.


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Description The project is still in progress, but we have developed robust methods for (a) analysing synchronisation from audio recordings, (b) extracting movement information from video recordings of musical performances and (c) analysing that movement data to provide evidence of interpersonal coordination and its relationship to musical structure. We are also conducting two kinds of experiments that will allow us to investigate listeners' sensitivity to variations in the way individuals synchronise their actions when playing music. In theoretical terms, we are now able to clearly distinguish different timescales and modalities of interpersonal entrainment.
Exploitation Route We are actively disseminating our findings and methods to other scholars as we progress. We are also developing ways of engaging the public, for example by developing school teaching materials related to our research and reporting our results through the national media.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Our findings have been applied in educational settings, especially in the context of the Durham Schools Science Festival. It has also been disseminated through two BBC radio broadcasts: the first, 'The History of Rhythm' on World Service leading directly to the invitation for the second, a 'Music Matters' contribution on Radio 3.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Title Software patches 
Description Patches for the Eyesweb software environment designed to allow extraction of movement information from video recordings of music performances. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact ONgoing research into interpersonal coordination in the UK, Australia, Italy and other countries. 
Title Interactions in duo improvisations (data) 
Description Data employed in the preparation to two major papers has been publicly released alongside those papers via the Edinburgh University data share portal and UK Data Service Reshare. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Analytical data is available to colleagues to reanalyse or check our findings. 
Title String Quartet recordings 
Description Audiovisual and biosignal recordings of a string quartet recorded on 26th February 2018, made in collaboration with BBC Radio 3. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact We expect to release a subset of these recordings in due course, once they have been organised and analysed. 
Description Contribution to BBC Radio 3 Music Matters 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Team members carried out research commissioned by BBC Radio 3, and reported on the results live on Music Matters, part of the Free Thinking festival, broadcast live from the Sage Gateshead on 10th March 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Contribution to BBC World Service Radio documentary, The History of Rhythm 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview with BBC World Service which was used extensively in a radio documentary introduced by Dame Evelyn Glennie.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Durham Schools Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We led sessions with groups of secondary school children at the Science Festival over three days in March 2017. We engaged with approximately 200 students and their teachers and received positive feedback about the experience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017