Perception of violin performance expression through expressive musical terms

Aviel Sulem, Ehud Bodner, Noam Amir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Expressive musical terms (EMTs) are often used in classical Western music as verbal instructions to performers to convey particular forms of expression. Recently, Sulem et al. (2019) analyzed the perception of EMTs by professional string players without reference to heard musical performances, defining four representative categories of EMTs located in the four quadrants of the two-dimensional model of affect whose parameters are valence and arousal. The present study focuses on listeners’ perceptions of musical expression in short excerpts from the violin repertoire, played according to the four representative categories and in a Neutral (i.e., non-expressive) manner. In Experiment 1, listeners’ perceptions of the performances were examined in terms of these five categories. In Experiment 2, listeners concentrated on the playing and sound characteristics of the performances, and paired-comparison analysis was used to estimate the perceived similarities between the performances in terms of their expression. The findings of the two experiments show that performances can be mapped in a three-dimensional perceptual space in which the valence and arousal dimensions are supplemented by a third dimension that can be associated with degree of expressiveness. This demonstrates the relevance of valence and arousal as fundamental parameters for characterizing the musical expression conveyed by the EMTs, as perceived by listeners, and introduces the concept of degree of expressiveness, reflecting the contrast between Neutral and expressive performances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)442-470
Number of pages29
JournalMusicae Scientiae
Issue number2
Early online date10 Mar 2022
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • music cognition
  • music performance
  • musical expression
  • perception
  • quantitative analysis
  • violin


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