Five keys to understanding how we are pioneer in the field of music research

At a concert, audience members listen to the musicians’ performance, but that’s not all: they also see how the musicians move. These gestures are the subject of the Sorbonne University GeAcMus chair‘s research, which covers the full range of such gestures across all cultures and eras. The approach behind this scientific research is unique in the world (especially since musicology remains relatively obscure): musicians, experts in biomechanics (the mechanics of the human body), and instrument-history specialists are all working together to provide the perspectives of various scientific disciplines.

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Letting data set the tone: a first in collaboration between the humanities and the hard sciences

In collaboration with musicologists, researchers in biomechanics from the University of Technology of Compiègne have developed an innovative technique that uses the same motion-capture methods as those used to produce movies and video games. The method involves sensors and video cameras placed, for example, on a bagpiper, to collect data about his breathing, lip position, and air flow, and thus allowing the musician’s movements to be modeled in 3D. This is an effective way to understand the influence of movements on playing music. 

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Helping to preserve our heritage

The chair also aims to help preserve historical and cultural heritage; for example, by saving a 19th-century flute that is one of just a few such instruments in the world. This requires all the expertise Sorbonne University can muster! Musicologists piece together the musical context of the era; acousticians contribute their knowledge of sound and how it is propagated; a recorder-maker digitally models the instrument; and, last but not least, the flautist adds his mastery in playing the instrument.

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Publicly accessible research: learn a new language – the language of music!

Musicology is an expert affair, but its applications are relevant to everyone. Would you like to improve your understanding of how instruments, gestures, and music interact? Are you interested in studying musical practices and dance? The French National Museum of Natural History is offering three free lecture series [Link to content in French] for students and the general public. Please join us !

A multicultural study of instrument-playing: comparative studies involving Africa, Asia, and the West

Since musical gestures depend not only on the instrument being played, but also the country where it is played, the GeAcMus chair experts are being sent to all four corners of the globe. Their task is to observe how instruments are used in Africa, Asia, and the West, by both expert musicians and learners. Co-chair Fabrice Marandola, for example, spent four weeks filming in Cameroon, observing two groups of xylophonists and goblet-drum players. Researchers are also studying the way harps are played in Gabon and lutes are played in Iran and Central Asia. This musical world tour will help confirm the hypothesis that there are many similarities among experts in different cultures.

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Research to explain how virtuosos play and to help other musicians improve their performance

Eventually, all of this work will give a clearer picture of the gestures used by instrumentalists, not only to prevent repetitive strain injuries but also to help decipher the secrets of virtuosos. This will be of real benefit to anyone wanting to learn an instrument, and perhaps the best way to help musicians play harder, better, faster, stronger !

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Whether you’re a university or doctoral student, a researcher or simply interested, if you’d like more information about music research at Sorbonne University click here for details on the GeAcMus chair and the Sorbonne University Collegium Musicae [Link to content in French], which specializes in the field of music. 

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