Handedness in Percussion Performance



John Sullivan

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Ian Marci

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M.A. Thesis, McGill University


Percussion’s need for accurate, symmetrical movements between hands make it uniquely apropos to the study of handedness in music. Past research has identified both kinematic and functional differences between the hands when playing percussion. Kinematic differences refer to the trajectory of each arm and mallet, while functional differences concern the use of each hand within a musical context. By conducting a two-part motion capture experiment, this work seeks to confirm past results as well as investigate new topics regarding the effects of handedness in percussion performance.

This thesis first focuses on functional differences by characterizing patterns in hand use in right-handed and left-handed players by observing percussionists’ stickings during a sight-reading and rehearsed performance of a specially designed musical excerpt. We confirm prior results by observing all participants beginning the exercises with their dominant hand. We further investigate the effects of handedness on sticking strategy and note that the strong preference for the dominant hand in the right-handed group, indicated by both handedness score and reported dominant hand during percussion performance, is clearly illustrated in the group’s sticking strategy. All five right-handed percussionists performed using a similar strategy that relied heavily on their right hands, known as right-hand lead. Contrastingly, left-handed players showed no such agreement, using various strategies. This aligns with the left-handed group’s less extreme preference for their dominant hand as shown by their handedness scores and reported lead hand. Systematic differences between sticking strategies used in the sight-reading and rehearsed performance indicate a combination of training and handedness affect sticking strategy.

An investigation of kinematic differences follows that includes differences created by musical articulation as well as handedness. Percussion is often seen as much as heard, so it is not surprising that different articulations are created by gestures that mimic the nature of the sound. Measurable differences between stroke types have been observed in past research and is observed in our data as well. By extracting salient quantities from each stroke (preparatory height and striking velocity), we are able to demonstrate clear differences between articulations within each percussionist. By normalizing the data, clearer patterns between percussionists emerge. These measures are then used to identify the degree of difference between hands for each percussionist. We note that information from only the z axis, preparatory height and striking velocity, is sufficient to discriminate between articulations but is not sufficient to observe systematic differences between hands.

Publication Details:

Masters Thesis
Montreal, Canada

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