Musical Expertise and the Ability to Imagine Loudness

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Most perceived parameters of sound (e.g. pitch, duration, timbre) can also be imagined in the absence of sound. These parameters are imagined more veridically by expert musicians than non-experts. Evidence for whether loudness is imagined, however, is conflicting. In music, the question of whether loudness is imagined is particularly relevant due to its role as a principal parameter of performance expression. This study addressed the hypothesis that the veridicality of imagined loudness improves with increasing musical expertise. Experts, novices and non-musicians imagined short passages of well-known classical music under two counterbalanced conditions: 1) while adjusting a slider to indicate imagined loudness of the music and 2) while tapping out the rhythm to indicate imagined timing. Subtests assessed music listening abilities and working memory span to determine whether these factors, also hypothesised to improve with increasing musical expertise, could account for imagery task performance. Similarity between each participant's imagined and listening loudness profiles and reference recording intensity profiles was assessed using time series analysis and dynamic time warping. The results suggest a widespread ability to imagine the loudness of familiar music. The veridicality of imagined loudness tended to be greatest for the expert musicians, supporting the predicted relationship between musical expertise and musical imagery ability.




Bishop, L., Bailes, F., & Dean, R. T. (2013). Musical Expertise and the Ability to Imagine Loudness. PLoS ONE, 8(2).

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