The Role of String Register In Affective Performance Choices

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Research Projects

Organizational Units

Journal Issue


Classical string players have to decide how to finger their musical passages, or decide which fingers should play each note and where on the instrument. Typically technical ease is the main goal of fingering. However, sometimes fingerings are based on expressive intention rather than technical ease alone. For example, when aiming to increase the emotional intensity of a passage, advanced string players sometimes choose to play a passage using a high position on a low string even though upper position playing is more challenging. This study investigates this seemingly counterintuitive performance choice. Research in speech offers a possible explanation. When highly emotional, people tend to speak higher in their range. Accordingly, utterances at the identical pitch level will sound more emotional if the speaker is perceived to have a lower tessitura than a higher one. Moving to a high position on a lower string might mimic this vocal emotional communication practice to convey a higher emotionality. My methods were generated from the following questions: for listeners, is there an audible difference between string registers (low- versus high-positions) and does that difference impact their emotional perception of a performance? Cellists were recorded playing 14 sustained pitches. For each pitch, one recording was made of that pitch being played in a low position on a high string and one recording of the same pitch in a high position on a low string resulting in 14 pairs of recordings of the same pitch played in different positions. In the experiment, participants were given two “sound groups” with example recordings. Participants were asked to identify which recorded pitch (of each pair) sounded most similar to Group B (a group of pitches played in a high playing position). In part two, one short melody was recorded in low and high playing positions. In a 2AFC paradigm, listeners chose which of the two versions of the melody they perceived as more emotionally expressive. The results of these studies demonstrate that listeners are reasonably able to differentiate between pitches played in low and high playing positions and might interpret melodies played in a high playing position as more expressive. From a pedagogical standpoint, these results can inform string teaching practices for training string students on how to approach fingering a musical passage, an essential skill for becoming a professional string instrument player.


The Arts: 2nd Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)


music and emotion, performance choice, timbre, vibrato, classical string instruments, music performance, music cognition