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West Virginia University (WVU) researcher Katelyn Best is exploring the connection between musical notation and musical expression to gain insight into how people perceive and experience emotion via music.

Best is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and her work combines psychology, research and music education to capture the essence of what music really means to people.

The Sign is the Song and the Song is the Sign

By using qualitative music analysis to market software designed to be used in the classroom setting, Best has been able to dive deeper into the music of people and their feelings. She says her goal is to get a better understanding of how musical notation is related to musical expression.

The idea behind her research is that “the sign is the song and the song is the sign.” What she means by this is that the way a person expresses themselves musically is made up of two parts: notation and expression. The notation is what we see when we look at the written score for a song; it tells the performer how to physically play the piece. The expression is the interpretation the performer gives to the piece to make it come alive, which is where the emotion lies.

Best has argued that one cannot assume that a particular set of notes is going to produce a predetermined emotion in the listener. The emotion people experience thematically within music is a personal and subjective experience, which is why both notation and expression are necessary pieces of the music-making puzzle.

Using Technology to Teach Music

Best’s research is poised to make a profound impact on the way music is taught in the classroom, particularly in terms of teaching experience and expression. She says that technology is a great tool for showing students how to express themselves musically, and her idea is to use interactive software in the classroom setting to help students interpret the music they are playing according to the context of the piece.

The software would present a variety of different phrases and settings for the students to choose from and interpret, allowing them to experience and express the music in their own unique way.

Benefits of Musical Expression

Best believes that all students can benefit from music education and expression, not just those who are pursuing a career in music. She believes that music education and expression can teach many valuable life lessons, such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and creativity.

Ultimately, Best believes that music should not only be used to teach and entertain, but also to inform, inspire and bring people together. She hopes her research will give people a better understanding of the importance of musical expression and open the door to new possibilities in music education.

The Benefits of Music Education and Expression:

  • Teaching teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills
  • Developing creativity, imagination, and critical thinking skills
  • Inspiring people to express themselves freely
  • Building connections between people
  • Encouraging personal growth