Time to Decide

Examining How Musical Decisions are Made and Performances are Valued

Time to Decide investigates how musicians and audiences determine what separates a good performance from a great one, and how this affects their experiences of performance.

Every musical performance has an audience, and every audience makes decisions about what they see and hear. Whether these are concertgoers deciding on coming back next season, teachers assessing the progress of their students, or jurors determining the winner of an international competition, these decisions play a critical role in the development of any aspiring professional musician. Previous research has questioned the consistency of these judgements, demonstrating how the order of performances or even a performer’s apparel can affect outcomes. How these biases translate to the concert hall remains unclear.

Time to Decide examines how musical decisions are made by listeners in real performance settings, from the cognitive processes that underpin them to the environmental factors that affect them. Through experimental designs involving carefully manipulated videos to surveys of hundreds of audience members at live concerts, the project is uncovering when people’s first instinctual reactions are formed, when they change, when they are finalised, and what factors influence them.

Through this research, musicians are learning to anticipate the expectations of their audiences and evaluators. They are also able to refine their own skills as assessors using a newly developed Evaluation Simulator which, drawing on CPS research into Experiential Learning, places users in the seat of a competition judge. With support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Peter Sowerby Foundation, the Evaluation Simulator was debuted at the 2015 Cheltenham Music Festival. The project has also led to the development of the continuous measurement software ContinUI in collaboration with students at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, to new curricula for undergraduates at the Royal College of Music, and to workshops for organisations such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the role of intuition and implicit judgment in conducting performance auditions.

Project team

George Waddell, RCM
Aaron Williamon, RCM

Learn more

Dalmazzo DC, Waddell G, & Ramirez R (forthcoming), Applying deep learning techniques to estimate patterns of musical gesture, Frontiers in Psychology [DOI].

Giraldo SI, Waddell G, Nou I, Ortega A, Mayor O, Perez-Carrillo A, Williamon A, & Ramirez R (2019), Automatic assessment of tone quality in violin music performance, Frontiers in Psychology, 10 (334), 1-12 [DOI].

Thompson S, Williamon A, & Valentine E (2007), Time-dependent characteristics of performance evaluation, Music Perception, 25, 13-29 [DOI].

Waddell G, Perkins R, & Williamon A (2019), The Evaluation Simulator: a new approach to training music performance assessment, Frontiers in Psychology, 10 (557), 1-17 [DOI].

Waddell G, Perkins R, & Williamon A (2018), Making an impression: error location and repertoire features affect performance quality rating processes, Music Perception36, 60-76 [DOI].

Waddell G & Williamon A (2017), Eye of the beholder: stage entrance behavior and facial expression affect continuous quality ratings in music performance, Frontiers in Psychology, 8 (513), 1-14 [DOI] [VIDEO].

Waddell G & Williamon A (2017), Measuring the audience, in S Lee (ed.), Scholarly Research for Musicians (pp. 148-155), Routledge.

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