Musical Shaping Gestures: Considerations about Terminology and Methodology


  • Elaine King



gesture, sign, ensemble rehearsal, non-verbal discourse


Fulford and Ginsborg’s investigation into non-verbal communication during music rehearsal-talk between performers with and without hearing impairments extends existing research in the field of gesture studies by contributing significantly to our understanding of musicians’ physical gestures as well as opening up discussion about the relationship between speech, sign and gesture in discourse about music. Importantly, the authors weigh up the possibility of an emerging sign language about music. This commentary focuses on three key considerations in response to their paper: first, use of terminology in the study of gesture, specifically about ‘musical shaping gestures’ (MSGs); second, methodological issues about capturing physical gestures; and third, evaluation of the application of gesture research beyond the rehearsal context. While the difficulties of categorising gestures in observational research are acknowledged, I indicate that the consistent application of terminology from outside and within the study is paramount. I also suggest that the classification of MSGs might be based upon a set of observed physical characteristics within a single gesture, including size, duration, speed, plane and handedness, leading towards an alternative taxonomy for interpreting these data. Finally, evaluation of the application of gesture research in education and performance arenas is provided.