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Is Your Musical Taste Based On Eye-Candy?

Imagine if you’d never heard of the Rolling Stones and saw the above video with the sound muted. Would you be able to tell they were something special? According to new research, visuals are more important than sound when it comes to judging musical performance. It’s all in the hips, apparently.

When forming an opinion about a musical performance, most people rely primarily on visual information such as the performer’s passion, involvement and physical uniqueness, rather than the actual music being played. This is the finding of a new University College London study which tasked 1,164 individuals with identifying the winners of ten international classical music competitions.

Participants were shown one of three versions of the finalists’ performances; sound-only, video-only or sound-and-video, and were then asked to name the winner of each competition. The study group included an even spread of musical novices and professional musicians.

Interestingly, the participants were more successful at picking the winners via the silent video recordings.

“Both novices and experts make judgments about music performance quickly and automatically on the basis of visual information,” the report explains. “Experts and novices alike privilege visuals above sound, the very information that is explicitly valued and reported as core to decision making in the domain of music.

“Moreover, when sound is made available along with the video, it led people away from the actual (visually based) competition outcomes.”

The report concludes that the secondary role of auditory information on people’s evaluation of music performance was likely to be “unsettling” for musicians, with the sound of music relegated to the role of noise.

Mind you, there’s not much room for variation in a classical music performance; each piece is rigidly uniform. (i.e. — It’s not like you can toss a few extra bars into your rendition of Symphony No. 6.) Perhaps that explains why the audio wasn’t much help in the judging.