The Effects of Handedness in Percussion Performance



John Sullivan

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Benjamin Bacon

Publication or Conference Title:

M.A. Thesis, McGill University


This thesis unites the fields of laterality and music by presenting two studies on handedness in percussion performance. Handedness is a subcategory of laterality, and is generally concerned with asymmetries found within the human body. One of the most fundamental divisions exists between the left- and right-sides. Previous research has shown that these differences develop early in body, and have a considerable and far-reaching influence over the way we interact with the world [1] [2]. Given that percussion performance utilizes bi-manual action, this instrumental category was investigated to observe how handedness and musical gesture affect one another.

Specifically, the work contained within this thesis focuses on the bi-manual actions of percussionists within a musical context. First, a review of laterality research is presented including important studies on bi-manual and musical work. Laterality is an interdisciplinary subject, with a large number of analysis methods and theories. Some of the most influential literature is reviewed in chapter 2, before two preliminary studies of handedness in snare-drum and timpani performance are presented.

After the initial look at the effects of handedness in percussion, two thorough experiments on the effects of handedness on the timpani are presented. The first study (chapter 3 focuses on the gestural differences between the left- and right-hands when performing a neutral (symmetrical) bi-manual task. This is done in an effort to see how one’s gesture is affected when no music is being performed. The second study evaluates how participants left- and right-hand performance frequency is related to internal timing and the metric function of musical notation. This experiment utilizes sight-reading to see how the participants issue responses with each hand. These studies are presented within the context of the literature review and preliminary studies in order to frame this work within the larger field of laterality. The overall findings suggest that handedness is responsible for both functional (performance-based) and formal (trajectory-based) differences in percussion performance gestures.

Publication Details:

Masters Thesis
Montreal, Canada

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