Piano Fingers: How Players Strike Keys Depends on How Muscles Are Used For Keystrokes That Occur Before and After
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Date posted: 12/08/2013
Posted by: Site Administration
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Sensors

Researchers have long been aware of a phenomenon in speech called coarticulation, in which certain sounds are produced differently depending on the sounds that come before or after them. For example, though the letter n is usually pronounced with the tongue pressed near the middle of the mouth’s roof (as in the word “ten”), it’s pronounced with the tongue farther forward when it’s followed by –th (as in “tenth”). A decade ago, researchers discovered that this phenomenon extends to a different kind of communication, American Sign Language. Knowing that hand movements could be affected according to where they fit in during sign language, researchers wondered if there was a similar effect on hands when they were used to produce sound, such as playing the piano.

To help answer this question, Martha Flanders and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota collected detailed data on the muscle movements of piano players, both amateurs and professionals. Their findings suggest that piano playing indeed involves coarticulation, with hand muscle contractions differing depending on the sequence of notes played.

The article is entitled “Patterns of Muscle Activity for Digital Coarticulation.” It appears in the Journal of Neurophysiology, published by the American Physiological Society.

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