Sunday, 17 January 2021

Musical Performance and 'Stage Fright' by Trevor Shakeshaft

 the text and download links for an essay completed as part of the Educational Psychology unit of a M.Ed. at the University of Birmingham in April 1982:

Original Manuscript (scanned) | Transcribed/Formatted Paper: Word | PDF

Musical Performance and ‘Stage Fright’

H Trevor Shakeshaft

written as part of the requirement for the M.Ed. at the University of Birmingham 1981/2

The public performance of music is an extremely complex process. Factors involved include physiological, psychological and social elements, and these are modified by factors such as musical ability, musicality, intelligence, personality, and stress. This last is probably the most important influence upon a musician’s actual performance on stage, though the others are extremely important during the period leading up to the public appearance. The term ‘stage fright’, borrowed from the theatre, is used here to indicate the anxiety and resultant stress felt by the performer immediately before and during a performance, and its effect on the quality of that performance.

Seashore (1938) wrote “The character of the performance and the limits of achievement often are set by the physique of the performer, his physiological condition, such as the state of health, fatigue, adaptation, and other chronic or temporary physiological factors which affect sensitivity, mental alertness, muscular tonus, and general attitudes and impulses of the performer.” Pre-existing physiological condition is outside the scope of this study, but temporary factors exerting an influence will be discussed below, as will modifying personality factors.

Kemp (1981a) produced a study of the personality structure of musical performers, in which he examined the development of such a structure through three stages of the musician’s career. The research design was cross-sectional in nature (a longitudinal design would obviously have been more valid, but was not practically feasible), investigating three groups – secondary school children, music students, and professional musicians. The last group is most important from the present writer’s viewpoint, but reference will be made to other groups where these differ significantly.

Musicians in all three groups were found to be more intelligent than non-musicians, more ‘aloof’(as opposed to outgoing — perhaps an unexpected trait), more sensitive (as opposed to ‘tough-minded), more imaginative (as opposed to practical), more forthright than shrewd (only applicable to the professional musicians), more self-sufficient, and finally, and most importantly for this topic, a difference was found in personality between male and female professional  musicians: Kemp (1981a) showed that while male musicians tended to be undisciplined rather than controlled (relative to non-musicians), female musicians tended to be tense, rather than relaxed. Female musicians showed no significant trend on the controlled-undisciplined continuum, while male musicians showed no significant trend on the tense-relaxed continuum (though music students — not split by sex — showed a similar ‘tense’ trend to the female musicians). Kemp concludes that the main second-order factors (see Cattell, 1971) present in professional musicians were introversion, anxiety, pathemia (emotionality), independence, naturalness, subjectivity, and intelligence.

The presence of the introversion trait in the personality of musicians (a factor which Kemp found to be common to all his groups) directly opposes the traditional view of musical performers as extraverts (see Shuter, 1968 p221). (It is also notable that Kemp in a later study, 1981b, found that while female professional composers were introverts, male composers showed no significant trend on the introversion-extraversion scale). It could be hypothesised that musicians choose to perform because they are introverts; the performance provides a channel for self-expression which would otherwise be denied them by virtue of their personality, Them has been so far as can be ascertained, no investigation as to the cause of the phenomenon.

The fact that high anxiety and pathemia scores were found in musical performers suggests a greater susceptibility to stress, Carr (1979 p220) points out “We must all deal with stress in our lives. If we try to avoid stress entirely, we may end up repressing feelings and trapping stress in our bodies rather than working it out.” Kemp (1981a), commenting on his findings, quotes Storr (1972) as suggesting that “[i]nvolvement in creative activity may be a defence against anxiety”. Storr (p50ff) in discussing ‘schizoid’ people, points out that they are “essentially introverted”, and tend not “to interact genuinely with their peers”. These two traits reflect what Kemp found to be traits of the musical performer. Storr (p58) adds that “... creative activity enables the schizoid person to retain at least part of his phantasy of omnipotence […] Since the ordinary person cannot emulate him, he can enjoy the satisfaction of being ‘different’ and a cut above the average.”

The main cause of situational anxiety or stress is fear in some form. Carr (op.cit. p249) quoted a ‘Sunday Times’ survey (no date was given) of the main sources of fear in American adults. 41% (the highest percentage) of respondents expressed fear of “speaking before a group”, while other fears were heights (32%), insects, financial problems, deep water (22% each), sickness, flying (19% each), death (18%) and several others with smaller scores. The interesting point is that the highest-scoring fear was of public speaking, while other fears, which would appear rational, like heights, driving a car, darkness, were relegated to lower positions in the survey. As Carr points out (p249), “[w]e need to recognise our fear of communicating”. If this is a valid fear (as it would appear) and if, .as seems obvious, musical performance is a form of communication, then to be a practical musician would appear to be a fear-inducing occupation. Carr also (p251) reported that a survey of high school pupils had produced results showing that pupils’ five most prevalent fears (in order) were: 1. Unpopularity; 2. Inadequacy; 3. loss of protection; 4. Personal changes (involved in growing up); 5. New experiences. It is interesting to note that the first two fears are those directly relatable to fear of performing in public.

Where fear or anxiety are present, stress is caused. In the circumstances under discussion, the difficulty seems to be in channelling this stress into the production of a better performance. If the physiological effects of stress are examined, we find that stress stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete adrenalin; this hormone, when present in the bloodstream, causes physical symptoms including the following (Levitt, 1968 p124): “The raising of systolic […] blood pressure but increasing heart action, decreasing blood volume at the skin level but increasing it in the muscles and brain, increasing blood sugar level and so forth. The primary subjective effects noted by the individual are tremor of the muscles, heart palpitation, rapid breathing, and sometimes a feeling of flushing in the face”. Levitt goes on to point out (p128) that “adrenaline (sic) causes a state of arousal whose direction is then determined by an external stimulus that is perceived independently by the subject”. He was referring basically to the choice “fight or flight” but the process seems apposite to this discussion. There is a need, then, for the arousal resulting from stress to be directed towards attaining drive to produce a better performance. Seashore (1938, p29) writes that “[t]he medium of musical art lies primarily in artistic deviation from the fixed and regular: From rigid pitch uniform intensity, fixed rhythm, pure tone, and perfect harmony”. Music may thus, in itself, produce emotional stress by its actual organisation, melody, form and harmony, etc., and by its interpretation by the performer, who must, like his audience, be experiencing similar arousal, as discussed below in the paragraph on emotion in music.

The Yerkes-Dodson law, propounded in 1908, states, as quoted by Eysenck (1970) that “performance is optimal when drive is neither too high nor too low, and optimal drive is low for complex and high for simple tasks”. Musical performance is manifestly a complex task, and by this token would appear to require only low drive or arousal to achieve the optimum effect. If, however, as pointed out above (Kemp, 1981a), anxiety is already at a high level in musicians, then possibly a somewhat greater degree of situational stress is needed to achieve optimal drive. It is possible to hypothesise that this high degree of stress could result from introverted performers having to perform in public (a stressful situation which could result in feelings of inadequacy), but with the moderating influence of their possibly somewhat schizoid nature giving a feeling of omnipotence.

To return to the topic of emotionality and its effects on arousal, however: Berlyne (1960) wrote that “Much of the admiration due to a creative artist is […] earned by the mastery with which he pieces together elements of widely differing arousal value, disposing them with regard not only to their general consistency but also to the ways in which they offset, reinforce, or undo the effects of one another” (p246). This is followed by an indirect quotation from Meyer (1956) that “musical patterns can have a meaning which has nothing to do with anything extramusical that they may suggest. To have meaning, a stimulus must refer to some stimulus other than itself, in the sense that it evokes some fraction of a response corresponding to that other stimulus, e.g. an expectation of it. And patterns of sound fulfil this condition in so far as they lead to expectations about other sounds following or accompanying them”. If music, then, is intrinsically an emotive medium, then emotional stress can be produced by it, and conveyed to both an audience and a performer. In view of the theoretical points made above, it may be that good musical performers have a drive or arousal level that is at an optimum at the outset, due to the factors mentioned earlier, and that this arousal level is maintained by the emotional content of the music being performed.

One of the effects of arousal caused by stress or anxiety is an increase in the blood supply to the muscles. In all forms of musical performance, muscles are obviously involved either directly or indirectly. Shuter (1968, p207) refers to the importance of feedback from muscular movements to the brain when performing. If increased sensitivity results from increased arousal, it seems logical to assume that such feedback will be quicker and more efficient if an optimal drive level is achieved by the performer. Shuter quotes the use of delayed feedback of speech (via electronic means) in an experiment which resulted in temporary speech impairment in the subjects. She further relates this to the act of singing, though of course all forms of musical activity require a degree of feedback. The present writer has experienced similar disorientation when playing an organ whose console was detached at a considerable distance from its pipework. The acoustic delay so caused resulted in considerable difficulty in playing any fast-moving passages of music, since the muscular movement of pressing a key did not immediately result in aural feedback.

‘Stage fright’ for the musical performer results from anxiety caused by fear – of public performance, of appearing inadequate, of not attaining the standards he has set himself. One or all of these fears can cause anxiety and stress before the performance begins. However, once the music has begun, the arousal resulting from this anxiety is replaced by that generated in the music being performed, and a balance is struck between the two. The practical difficulty lies in directing all of the drive thus acquired into performance. Kato Havas (1961, p69) writing of her approach to violin playing and teaching, wrote of stage fright as follows: “Stage fright […] is nothing but the result of a lack of mental and physical co-ordination”. It is, to say the least, difficult to reconcile this simplistic view with the way in which most performers overcome the problem — by simply beginning to play or sing. It appears also to be erroneous, as without either of these two abilities, no musical performance at all could result.

Carr (op.cit. p254) wrote “[d]estructive anxiety can produce strain, fatigue, exhaustion, weakness, and physical sensations such as trembling, perspiration, rapid heartbeat, headaches, backaches, breathing difficulties and digestive disturbances”. She further, however, pointed out (pp255ff) that “[f]ear can be converted into excitement […] Fear, anxiety and worry can be perceived and used in constructive ways […] Many famous and successful people turn anxiety into constructive energy; the actress who performs in spite of her stage fright and receives a standing ovation […] Anxiety can be converted into energy; how we use it depends on us”.

Finally, it must be stated that ‘stage fright’ as applied to musical performance is the result of two main factors: the personality structure of musicians, which, including as it does elements of introversion, pathemia, and anxiety, can exacerbate the response to fear of public performance; and this very fear, which produces in the musician a state of arousal, and which may well be a necessary condition for effective performance, if consciously directed. The degree of emotion expressed (directly, as shown above) through the music itself can play a part in aiding the musician in overcoming his stage fright, but again requires the conscious direction of the performer.

Further research is needed on the effects of the phenomenon known as stage fright on musicians and other performers; the variables which would need to be taken into account by any investigator would seem to be the personality of the musician (possibly broken down into various instrumental and vocal performers, and conductors, or players in ensembles and orchestras), the degree of stage fright or nervousness experienced (evaluation would be a problem here – perhaps a remote monitoring of physiological symptoms linked with questionnaires would prove useful); the improvement or otherwise in public performance as compared to private performance (again this would produce methodological problems – moral considerations arise if recording and reporting upon private practice, while if the performer’s permission is sought, the ‘Hawthorne Effect; may distort findings); the physiological manifestations of stress exhibited (see above); and the strategies adopted to channel the resulting drive into the performance, The choice of music for such research would also prove an extremely difficult decision, but falls outside the scope of this discussion


References

 BERLYNE, D .E. (1960) Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. McGraw-Hill

 CARR, J.B. (1979) Communicating and relating. California, Benjamin Cummings.

 CATTELL, R.B. (1971) Abilities: their structure, growth and action. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.

 EYSENCK, H.J. (1970) The structure of human personality. (3rd ed). Methuen.

 HAVAS, Kato (1961) A new approach to violin playing. Bosworth.

 KEMP, Anthony (1981a) The Personality structure of the musician. I. Identifying a profile of traits for the performer. Psychology of Music Vol.9, No.1, pp5-14

 KEMP, Anthony (1981b) The Personality structure of the musician. II. Identifying a profile of traits for the composer. Psychology of Music Vol.9, No.2, pp69-75

 LEVITT, E.G. (1968) The psychology of anxiety. Staples.

 MEYER, C.B. (1956) Emotion and meaning in music. University of Chicago Press.

 SEASHORE, C.E, (1938) Psychology of Music. McGraw-Hill.

 SHUTER, Rosamund (1968) The psychology of musical ability. Methuen.

 STORR, A. (1972) The dynamics of creation. Secker & Warburg.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Adolescents' Perception of Musical Instruments - An Exploratory Study by Trevor Shakeshaft & Jim Doherty (circa 1983)

 The text, and download links, for an unpublished academic paper:

Original Manuscript (scanned) | Transcribed/Formatted Paper: Word | PDF

Adolescents’ Perception of Musical Instruments – An Exploratory Study

by Trevor Shakeshaft and Jim Doherty

Faculty of Education, University of Birmingham

Abstract

A group of 47 adolescents, aged between 12 and 13 years of age, took part in this investigation. They were presented with line drawings of ten musical instruments, and they were asked to rate these on a set of 25 bi-polar scales, in the method devised by Osgood et alia (1957). The results indicated that certain instruments were typically grouped together into one of two general categories. The flute, for example, was seen as the most feminine, agile, quiet, delicate, light, peaceful, smooth, gentle and calming. Other instruments similarly perceived were the clarinet, the violin and the oboe. At the other extreme, the drum was perceived as the most rough, exciting, harsh, popular, threatening, masculine, unpleasant, easy to play, loud, strong, robust, irritating, warlike, ugly and ‘pop’ (as opposed to ‘classical’). Other instruments similarly perceived were the trombone and trumpet. A factor analysis of the 25 ratings of all the instruments revealed three main factors, labelled POTENCY, EVALUATION (NEGATIVE) and ‘POP’. The factor of potency was by far the most important, accounting for almost two-thirds of the variance. The results of this investigation are discussed in the context of the phenomenon of animism and with reference to children’s preferences for musical instruments.

Introduction

This research focuses on how adolescents perceive musical instruments. A group of secondary school pupils were asked to rate certain instruments on a variety of bi-polar attributes, some of which are generally used to describe human beings. It has long been recognized that we tend to describe musical instruments, and particularly the sounds that they produce, in terms of adjectives drawn from other fields of experience, In this sense we are using a mode of analysis which might loosely be described as metaphorical, often drawing on a network of epithets which have been built up in social and personal life. But perhaps one might claim that this tendency towards metaphorical analysis is part of a greater and more general proclivity to ascribe to the inanimate qualities and characteristics that are essentially human. At one level, this proclivity may be no more than a tendency to use metaphors drawn from life to describe inanimate objects or forces. At another level, the proclivity may be much more intense: objects or forces are perceived as human. This phenomenon is referred to as ‘animism’.

In more primitive times, animism seemed to be much more widespread than it is now. To Sir James Frazer, it was a universal characteristic of human thinking. In his book, The Golden Bough (1922), he provided examples of animism from many diverse cultures. “To the savage,” he wrote, “the world in general is animate, and the trees and plants are no exception to the rule. He thinks that they have souls like his own and treats them accordingly” (p35). So trees and plants (rice, corn, barley) have at various times and in various cultures been personified; but this personification could also include the winds, the rocks, mountains, lakes and seasons. Animism, it would seem, was an enduring trait in primitive man.

It would be easy to infer that modern man is more rational in his thinking, and that this tendency towards animism is no longer with us, but the evidence points to another conclusion. As Piaget has shown, animism is still a salient feature in the thinking of young children. Even among adults, there is evidence to prove that modern man is still failing to distinguish between the animate and the inanimate. Frude (1983), for example, describes how humans ‘interact” with computers: for some users these can take on living qualities. Quoting evidence from Weizenbaum (1979), Frude reveals that the use of computers in psychotherapy can have devastating effects on the reasoning of the clients. Weizenbaum, who created and used such a program (ELIZA) became so alarmed by its effect upon patients, that he abandoned this kind of approach, and began a crusade against the use of computers in counselling and psychotherapy. What alarmed Weizenbaum was that “[p]eople who knew very well that they were conversing with a machine soon forgot the fact, just as theatregoers, in the grip of suspended disbelief, soon forget that the action they are witnessing is not ‘real’ […] They would demand to be permitted to converse with the system in private and would, after conversing with it for a little time, insist (in spite of my explanations) that the machine really understood them” (p67).

We could conclude that man still has a tendency to ‘humanize’ that which is inanimate. It is this conclusion which underpins research into how we perceive musical instruments. The reasoning is that we do not merely perceive musical instruments as ‘things’, but customarily react to them in terms of a network of meanings, some of them drawn from human interaction and experience.

One such study has been reported by Abeles and Porter (1978). In the main, these investigators were concerned with children’s preference for musical instruments: they wanted to find out if boys preferred certain instruments and girls preferred others. They did find that there was a clear association between sex and preferred instrument, and that this began at a comparatively early age. But one aspect of their research is of particular interest here. Eight instruments (flute, violin, clarinet, cello, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and drum) were ranked for masculinity, using the method of paired comparisons. The respondents were 58 American college students, some specializing in music and others specializing in other disciplines. The results showed that the instruments which were rather most masculine were the drum, the trombone and the trumpet (in that order. The instruments that were rated as least masculine (and presumably most feminine) were the flute, the violin and the clarinet (in that order).

In a similar study, Griswald and Chroback (1981) examined the perceptions formed of certain musical instruments among a group of 89 college students, 40 of whom were specializing in music, the remainder in other disciplines. The investigators analyzed the perceptions formed by the group as a whole, and then compared the sexes. Griswald and Chroback studied responses to seven of the eight instruments that were included by Abeles and Porter (1978): they excluded the trombone. They added the harp, the piccolo, the glockenspiel, the piano, the French horn, the oboe, the guitar, the cymbals, the saxophone, the string bass and the tuba. Griswald and Chroback asked their subjects (50 females, 39 males) to rate each of the eighteen instruments on a 10-point Likert-type scale, anchored on the words MASCULINE and FEMININE. They found that undergraduates, irrespective of sex, rated as most masculine, the following instruments: tuba, string bass, drums and saxophone (in that order). The instruments that were rated most feminine were the harp, the flute, the piccolo, the glockenspiel, and the cello (in that order).

Both of these studies concentrated on one dimension, the masculine-feminine polarity. But there is no reason to doubt that musical instruments may be perceived in terms of other dimensions as meaningful to the individual. It is relevant in this context to refer to the research which was carried out by Osgood, Suci and Tannenbaum (1957). Underpinning their attempts to chart what they called ‘semantic space’ was the belief that “most of the variance in human semantic judgements could be explained in terms of a relatively small number of orthogonal factors” (p71). In a variety of judgemental situations, Osgood et alia did find that three major factors – EVALUATION, POTENCY and ACTIVITY – kept emerging. Evaluation typically accounted for approximately double the variance due either to potency or activity. As we shall see, the research carried out by Osgood, Suci and Tannenbaum provided an invaluable frame of reference for the present study. Some of the adjectives that were analyzed by these researchers have been included in the rating scales used in the present project.

This research was initiated by a desire to extend the work reported by Abeles and Porter (1978) and Griswald and Chroback (1981). It will be recalled that in both of these studies the investigators used one scale only. In the present project, a wider network of bi-polar attributes has been used.

The Investigation

Two classes in the first year of a secondary school were selected for the study. There were 47 children in the sample, 21 of them boys, and 26 of them girls, all aged between 12 and 13. Since this investigation was concerned with their perceptions of certain selected musical instruments, it was important to ensure that the instruments were fairly familiar to the respondents. The investigator, a music teacher of many years’ experience, made the final choice. The musical instruments that were included are shown below. They were presented to the subjects in the same order:

              1.      Trombone (Tbn)

              2.      Cello (Vlc)

              3.      Drums (Dr)

              4.      Oboe (Ob)

              5.      Violin (Vln)

              6.      Trumpet (Tpt)

              7.      Clarinet (Clt)

              8.      Guitar (Gtr)

              9.      Flute (Flt)

           10.      Piano (Pft)

It was not possible to provide an aural example to the subjects. However, as an aide-memoire, a line-drawing of each instrument was provided for every subject.

Each instrument was rated on a set of five-point bi-polar scales, in a manner similar to that employed by Osgood et alia (although these investigators preferred a seven-point rather than a five-point scale). The adjectives used for the 25 scales were partly drawn from Osgood’s lists (1957), and partly selected on the basis of the investigator’s knowledge and understanding of the children involved. The 25 bi-polar adjectives are shown below. A double asterisk indicates that both polar adjectives are derived from Osgood; a single asterisk denotes the fact that one adjective is so derived, and Osgood’s original adjective is placed in brackets alongside. These changes to Osgood’s original format were made because it was felt that the new form would be better understood by this sample of British children.

              1.                                   feminine         masculine

              2.                                        rough         smooth**

              3.                                           agile         ponderous

              4.                                    pleasant         unpleasant

              5.                        difficult to play         easy to play

              6.                                     exciting         boring

              7.                                             sad         cheerful* (happy)

              8.                                         harsh         gentle

              9.                               quiet (soft)         loud*

           10.                                     popular         unpopular

           11.       better played on its own         better played as part of a larger group

           12.                                          weak         strong**

           13.                                     delicate         robust* (rugged)

           14.                                           light         heavy**

           15.                                   soothing         irritating

           16.                                    peaceful         warlike* (ferocious)

           17.                                             evil         good

           18.                                   beautiful         ugly**

           19.                                  ‘classical’         ‘pop’

           20.                              threatening         calm

           21.                                ‘high class’         vulgar

           22.                                    squeaky         boomy +

           23.                                   rumbling         screeching +

           24.                                    majestic         frivolous

           25.                                expressive         inexpressive

+ Note: Osgood employed the adjectives high – low, and bass – treble. The scales numbers 22 and 23 were chosen as being more easily understood by the subjects in the present experiment.

The scales were administered to the two classes separately, during a normal, forty-minute lesson. The pupils easily completed the responses within the time available, and a high level of interest and participation was noted.

Results

The results were analysed as follows:

  1. (A)   Ranking of the instruments on each of the 25 scales. On each of the 25 scales, the mean ranking of each instrument was calculated. The scales were laid out in such a way that the left-hand side of the polarity represents the lowest value (a rating of 1), and the right-hand side represents the highest value (a rating of 5). Table A reveals that for feminine/masculine scale, the instrument that was judged the most feminine was the flute, and the instrument that was rated the most masculine was the drum. The order is completely reversed when we come to the next rating scale, rough/smooth. In fact, the flute and the drum form the extremes in a significant number of scales. Thus the flute is rated as the most feminine, agile, quiet, delicate, light, peaceful, smooth, gentle, and calming. The drum is rated the most rough, exciting, harsh, popular, threatening, masculine, unpleasant, easy to play, loud, strong, robust, irritating, warlike, ugly, ‘pop’ (as opposed to ‘classical’), vulgar and boomy.
  2. (B)    Ranking of the instruments on each of the 25 scales: sex differences. The mean ranking of each instrument on each of the 25 scales was calculated, for each sex separately. A sex-comparison revealed that in general there was little difference between the perceptions of the boys and the perceptions of the girls, so far as the musical instruments were concerned, Opinions appeared most unanimous in the case of the trombone (only five significant sex differences over the 25 scales), and most divergent in the case of the cello (eighteen significant sex differences over the 25 scales). In view of the small numbers in each sex group and the close similarity in the perceptions of the sexes, data for this aspect of the research has been omitted.
  3. (C)    Factor analysis of the scales. The data was also subjected to factor analysis. The distinction between each instrument being set aside, the data was ‘pooled’: this gave 470 scores on each of the 25 scales (sample size was 47 and ten instruments were rated). The ‘pooled’ scores were factor-analysed, Varimax rotation and Kaiser normalization being applied. Three factors with Eigen-values of more than 1 were extracted, and Table B presents the respective factor loadings on each of the 25 bi-polar scales. Factor I accounted for 59.8% of the variance, and Table B shows that if we accept a ‘cut-off’ point of 0.3 as the lowest acceptable level of factor loading, then eleven scales were significantly loaded on Factor I. Child (1970) advises that in trying to interpret and label factors, one should sample the ‘flavour’ of the most heavily loaded items, in an attempt to establish a semantic link. The list below sets out those scales that were most heavily loaded on Factor I. For the sake of clarity, only the stressed polarity of each scale is given.


Table A: Rankings of instruments of each scale, for the whole sample 

 

Left Polar Adjective

Rankings of Instruments

Right Polar Adjective

1

feminine

Flt

Clt

Vln

Ob

Pft

Vlc

Gtr

Tbn

Tpt

Dr

masculine

2

rough

Dr

Tbn

Tpt

Vln

Pft

Clt

Gtr

Vlc

Ob

Flt

smooth

3

agile

Flt

Ob

Gtr

Vln

Clt

Vlc

Pft

Tbn

Dr

Tpt

ponderous

4

pleasant

Pft

Gtr

Ob

Flt

Clt

Vlc

Tbn

Tpt

Vln

Dr

unpleasant

5

difficult to play

Tbn

Ob

Flt

Vlc

Clt

Vln

Gtr

Tpt

Pft

Dr

easy to play

6

exciting

Dr

Gtr

Pft

Tpt

Clt

Flt

Tnb

Ob

Vlc

Vln

boring

7

sad

Ob

Vlc

Vln

Flt

Tbn

Clt

Gtr

Pft

Tpt

Dr

cheerful

8

harsh

Dr

Tpt

Tnb

Vln

Vlc

Clt

Pft

Gtr

Ob

Flt

gentle

9

quiet (soft)

Flt

Vln

Gtr

Ob

Clt

Vlc

Pft

Tpt

Tnb

Dr

loud

10

popular

Dr

Tpt

Pft

Gtr

Clt

Flt

Vln

Tbn

Vlc

Ob

unpopular

11

better on own

Gtr

Pft

Flt

Ob

Clt

Tpt

Vlc

Vln

Dr

Tbn

better in a group

12

weak

Vln

Flt

Ob

Vlc

Clt

Gtr

Pft

Tpt

Tbn

Dr

strong

13

delicate

Flt

Ob

Vln

Gtr

Clt

Vlc

Pft

Tbn

Tpt

Dr

robust

14

light

Flt

Vln

Ob

Clt

Gtr

Vlc

Tpt

Dr

Pft

Tbn

heavy

15

soothing

Gtr

Ob

Flt

Clt

Pft

Vlc

Tpt

Tbn

Vln

Dr

irritating

16

peaceful

Flt

Clt

Ob

Vln

Gtr

Pft

Vlc

Tpt

Tbn

Dr

warlike

17

evil

Tbn

Vln

Tpt

Vlc

Dr

Ob

Clt

Pft

Flt

Gtr

good

18

beautiful

Gtr

Vlc

Flt

Clt

Ob

Pft

Vln

Tpt

Tbn

Dr

ugly

19

‘classical’

Vln

Vlc

Tbn

Ob

Clt

Flt

Pft

Tpt

Gtr

Dr

‘pop’

20

Threatening

Dr

Tpt

Tbn

Vln

Pft

Vlc

Clt

Ftr

Ob

Flt

calm

21

‘high class’

Vlc

Flt

Pft

Ob

Vln

Clt

Tbn

Gtr

Tpt

Dr

vulgar

22

squeaky

Vln

Vlc

Ob

Clt

Flt

Gtr

Pft

Tpt

Tbn

Dr

boomy

23

rumbling

Dr

Tbn

Pft

Tpt

Gtr

Flt

Ob

Clt

Vlc

Vln

screeching

24

majestic

Clt

Tbn

Pft

Vlc

Flt

Tpt

Ob

Gtr

Dr

Vln

frivolous

25

expressive

Clt

Tpt

Pft

Tbn

Dr

Vlc

Ob

Flt

Gtr

Vln

inexpressive

Tbn = Trombone
Vln = Violin
Flt = Flute
Vlc = Cello
Tpt = Trumpet
Pft = Piano
Dr = Drums
Clt = Clarinet
Ob = Oboe
Gtr = Guitar

Table B: Factor loadings on each scale: 

Scale

Factor I (Potency)

Factor II (Evaluative)

Factor III

1

feminine

masculine

0.645

0.189

0.232

2

rough

smooth

-0.337

-0.473

-0.158

3

agile

ponderous

0.344

0.141

-0.004

4

pleasant

unpleasant

0.042

0.613

-0.141

5

difficult to play

easy to play

0.123

0.116

0.208

6

exciting

boring

-0.105

0.415

-0.533

7

sad

cheerful

0.127

-0.134

0.451

8

harsh

gentle

-0.378

-0.468

-0.069

9

quiet (soft)

loud

0.612

0.184

0.143

10

popular

unpopular

-0.113

0.285

-0.520

11

on own

in group

0.166

0.373

-0.077

12

weak

strong

0.743

-0.028

-0.159

13

delicate

robust

0.643

0.127

0.015

14

light

heavy

0.608

0.111

0.102

15

soothing

irritating

0.221

0.590

-0.074

16

peaceful

warlike

0.524

0.493

0.086

17

evil

good

-0.092

-0.466

0.183

18

beautiful

ugly

0.108

0.600

-0.132

19

‘classical’

‘pop’

0.263

0.250

0.505

20

Threatening

calm

-0.299

-0.521

-0.125

21

‘high class’

vulgar

0.146

0.425

0.062

22

squeaky

boomy

0.626

0.015

0.261

23

rumbling

screeching

-0.525

0.039

-0.221

24

majestic

frivolous

-0.142

0.393

0.057

25

expressive

inexpressive

-0.142

0.333

-0.211

 Scales heavily loaded on Factor I

  • ·       MASCULINE
  • ·       LOUD
  • ·       STRONG
  • ·       ROBUST
  • ·       HEAVY
  • ·       WARLIKE
  • ·       BOOMY
  • ·       RUMBLING

Clearly Factor I is very similar to Osgood’s Potency factor, as a survey of the above list will show. But whereas Osgood found that the factor of Evaluation typically accounted for double the variance due to either Potency or Activity, in this case it is the factor of Potency which is by far the most important, accounting for almost two-thirds the common variance. Factor I has therefore been labelled POTENCY.

In the same way, we may set out a similar list for Factor II. Scales heavily loaded on Factor II:

  • ·       UNPLEASANT
  • ·       IRRITATING
  • ·       UGLY
  • ·       THREATENING

Obviously Factor II is very similar to Osgood’s Evaluative factor, as a survey of the above list will show. But the stressing reveals that the evaluation is decidedly negative, and Factor II has therefore been labelled EVALUATION (NEGATIVE).

In the case of Factor III, the list of heavily loaded scales is as follows:

  • ·       EXCITING
  • ·       POPULAR
  • ·       ‘POP’

Clearly Factor III differs from the other two, in that it was not one originally elicited by Osgood. One would not necessarily expect the same pattern to emerge in every judgemental situation, however. Each of the two minor factors identified by Osgood (POTENCY and ACTIVITY) typically explained only a small proportion of the variance; and in a variety of judgemental cases, one would expect to find situation-specific factors playing a minor role. That has happened in this investigation, where a ‘pop’ factor was elicited. What is unusual here is the relative importance of POTENCY, compared to EVALUATION, the reverse of what Osgood and his associates found.

Discussion

Several interesting points may be noted here. For one thing, it was clear that this sample of children did not perceive the musical instruments in a random way. There was a clear pattern in their responses, a pattern which ‘makes sense’ when one considers the instruments and the sounds that they emit. The correspondence between musical and semantic essence is highlighted by the ranking of the instruments on  the 25 scales (see Table A). To perceive the flute as feminine, agile, delicate, light, peaceful, gentle and calming is to appreciate the very qualities that make it distinctive as an instrument. To see the drum as rough, exciting, threatening, strong, robust and warlike is to understand why it is so important in orchestra and band. What this study underlines is that we do not hear and appreciate musical instruments in a vacuum. We perceive and respond to them within a framework of meanings, some of them drawn from social and personal life.

But underlying these meanings there seems to be some kind of organization, as the factor analysis revealed. The ‘orderly simplification’ which factor analysis brings revealed that the most important element was POTENCY. Attributes like ‘masculine’, ‘loud’, ‘strong’, and ‘warlike’ were all heavily weighted on this factor. And as Table A showed, the instruments that were rated highly on these attributes were the drum, the trombone, and the trumpet. Instruments that were typically regarded as ‘feminine’, ‘quiet’, ‘weak’ and ‘peaceful’ were the flute, violin, oboe and clarinet. POTENCY was by far the most important factor, and accounted for the major share of the common variance. Two other factors, EVALUATION (NEGATIVE) and ‘POP’ were also elicited, but seemed to play a much less important role.

This paper started with the general observation that man has a tendency to render animate those things which are without life; and that this could range from the mere application of metaphor, to the state where total personification of the object or force is achieved. When we say that these children regarded the flute as more ‘feminine’ or the drum as more ‘rough’, we are not implying that they were ‘humanizing’ these instruments, or even that the associations they made with the instruments were necessarily intense or important for them. One might even criticise this study on the grounds that the respondents were forced to make an assessment on a set of pre-selected scales. A more natural form of investigation would have involved the elicitation of personal constructs, using the repertory grid technique devised by Kelly (1955).

What we can claim is that certain aspects of the findings suggest that the ratings were valid. For one thing, there was a remarkable degree of uniformity in the way that the sample as a whole rated the instruments. For another, the pattern of these perceptions ‘made sense’ when one considered the instruments and sounds that were being reacted to: we, too, would have rated the flute as ‘delicate’ and ‘light’, the drum

as ‘rough’ and ‘threatening’. Finally, the data that has emerged from this investigation does support the findings of previous investigators in this field, like Abeles and Porter (1978) and Griswald and Chroback (1981). So although the respondents were forced to make ratings over a fixed and pre-defined set of scales, the validity of the ratings seems to be high. Future research in this area should be more open, however, and less exploratory. We have mentioned the possibility of using personal constructs in the perception and assessment of musical instruments. Another possibility is the use of projective tests. In an area which has been neglected by psychologists, there is much scope for innovation and ingenuity. The way ahead has been clearly sign-posted.

What light does this study throw on pupil attitudes to music, and to playing an instrument? It is well known that boys tend to lose interest in music in early adolescence, and it has been suggested that if schools specialized in certain musical instruments, they might attract more boys, and sustain their interest in playing. Brocklehurst (1962) attributed the growth in the formation of brass bands in secondary schools to ‘the appeal of brass instruments to adolescent boys’, and this has certainly been supported by the evidence from this study. Boys (and in some cases girls) perceived the trombone and trumpet as more masculine, robust, warlike, and expressive. Perhaps when local traditions combine with favourable perceptions, the music interest of boys can be caught and sustained. But the general decline of interest in music and music-playing among boys is probably due to what Gill (1981) referred to as “an inevitable part of the maturation process”. It is less easy to be specific about this process, but Shakeshaft (1983) is at present engaged in a longitudinal study which could indicate what factors are at work. His investigation could throw more light on the problem of why boys are more inclined to lose interest in music, and abandon music-playing, as they move into adolescence.


References

ABELES, H.F. and PORTER, S.Y. (1978), ‘The sex stereotyping of musical instruments’, Journal of Research in Music Education, 26, p65-75.

BROCKLEHURST, J.B. (1962), ‘Trends in music teaching’, Educational Review, 15, p1-14.

CHILD, D. (1970), The essentials of factor analysis London: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

FRAZER, Sir James (1922), The Golden Bough (Abridged Version), London: Macmillan.

FRUDE, N. (1983), The intimate machine London: Century.

GILL, S.J. (1981), ‘An investigation into the attitudes towards class singing amongst primary and secondary aged pupils and their teachers’, Unpublished MEd thesis, University of Birmingham.

GRISWOLD, P.A. and CHROBACK, D.A. (1981), ‘Sex-role associations of music instruments and occupations by gender and major’, Journal of Research in Music Education, 29, p57-62.

KELLY, G.A. (1955), The psychology of personal constructs New York: Norton.

OSGOOD, C.E., SUCI, G.J. and TANNENBAUM, P.H. (1957), The measurement of meaning London: University of Illinois Press.

SHAKESHAFT, H.T. (1983) ‘A longitudinal investigation into factors influencing attitudes to music lessons’, Faculty of Education, University of Birmingham, PhD research in progress.

WEIZENBAUM, J. (1979), Computer Power and Human Reason San Francisco: Freeman.