This article is part of the Research Topic Mental Imagery - Frontiers in Perception Science

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 03 December 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00525

Mental imagery for musical changes in loudness

  • MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Musicians imagine music during mental rehearsal, when reading from a score, and while composing. An important characteristic of music is its temporality. Among the parameters that vary through time is sound intensity, perceived as patterns of loudness. Studies of mental imagery for melodies (i.e., pitch and rhythm) show interference from concurrent musical pitch and verbal tasks, but how we represent musical changes in loudness is unclear. Theories suggest that our perceptions of loudness change relate to our perceptions of force or effort, implying a motor representation. An experiment was conducted to investigate the modalities that contribute to imagery for loudness change. Musicians performed a within-subjects loudness change recall task, comprising 48 trials. First, participants heard a musical scale played with varying patterns of loudness, which they were asked to remember. There followed an empty interval of 8 s (nil distractor control), or the presentation of a series of four sine tones, or four visual letters or three conductor gestures, also to be remembered. Participants then saw an unfolding score of the notes of the scale, during which they were to imagine the corresponding scale in their mind while adjusting a slider to indicate the imagined changes in loudness. Finally, participants performed a recognition task of the tone, letter, or gesture sequence. Based on the motor hypothesis, we predicted that observing and remembering conductor gestures would impair loudness change scale recall, while observing and remembering tone or letter string stimuli would not. Results support this prediction, with loudness change recalled less accurately in the gestures condition than in the control condition. An effect of musical training suggests that auditory and motor imagery ability may be closely related to domain expertise.

Keywords: mental imagery, loudness, music, motor processing, melody, working memory

Citation: Bailes F, Bishop L, Stevens CJ and Dean RT (2012) Mental imagery for musical changes in loudness. Front. Psychology 3:525. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00525

Received: 30 April 2012; Accepted: 06 November 2012;
Published online: 03 December 2012.

Edited by:

Joel Pearson, The University of New South Wales, Australia

Reviewed by:

Holly Bridge, University of Oxford, UK
Joel Pearson, The University of New South Wales, Australia

Copyright: © 2012 Bailes, Bishop, Stevens and Dean. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Freya Bailes, Department of Drama and Music, University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull HU6 7RX, UK. e-mail:

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