Expressing tonal closure in music performance: auditory and visual cues

Donovon Keith Ceaser, William Forde Thompson, Frank Russo

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    We examined whether musical performers communicate tonal closure through expressive manipulation of facial expressions and non-pitch features of the acoustic output. Two musicians hummed two versions of Silent Night: one ended on die tonic of the scale and exhibited tonal closure; the other ended on the dominant and was therefore tonally unclosed. In Experiment 1, video-only recordings of the hummed sequences were presented to 15 participants, who judged whether the (imagined) melody was closed or unclosed. Accuracy was reliably above chance, indicating that the musicians expressed tonal closure in facial expressions and listeners decoded these cues. Experiment 2 was conducted to determine whether musicians also communicate tonal closure in acoustic attributes other than pitch. All tones in the hummed melodies were pitched-shifted to a constant mean value, but performances still differed in loudness, microtonal pitch variation, timing, and timbre. Participants judged whether audio-only recordings were closed or unclosed. Accuracy was not above chance overall, but was marginally above chance for judgement of one of the two singers. Results suggest that tonal closure can be mapped onto non-pitch aspects of performance expression, but is primarily restricted to the use of facial expressions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)29-34
    Number of pages6
    JournalCanadian Acoustics - Acoustique Canadienne
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


    • acoustic outputs
    • facial expressions
    • mean values
    • music performance
    • visual cues


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