Coordination and Collaborative Creativity in Music Ensembles

Music ensemble performance requires precise temporal coordination between performers. As an art form, it also requires the creative interpretation of existing music, if not the creation of new music altogether. Thus, though ensemble musicians aim to sound unique, they are simultaneously constrained by the need to remain predictable to each other. How ensembles achieve well-coordinated performances in musical contexts requiring creative interpretation or improvisation is the question driving this research. Our aim is to identify the cognitive mechanisms underlying musical creativity in groups. We consider both human-human and human-computer collaboration to test how factors normally present in live human interaction (e.g. opportunity for communication, perception of co-performers as intention and responsive) affect creative collaboration. As part of this project, we are conducting a series of studies that investigate how ensemble musicians coordinate improvised performances and performances of notated music that contains periods of high temporal ambiguity. Duo performance paradigms employing motion capture and eye tracking techniques enable us to define the role of visual communication in creative musical collaboration. In other studies, we compare solo and duo performances of the same material to identify the methods musicians use to align their intentions. Another part of this project involves developing a computer accompaniment system capable of filling in for a human piano duet partner. Our accompaniment system receives MIDI input from a human pianist and uses a linear timing model to align its output in real time with the pianist's performance. We are now working to implement several developments to the system, including the capacity to predict and adapt to pianists' changes in dynamics and the capacity to give visual signals through the movements of an avatar head. Later in the project, experiments will be run to test for differences between human-human and human-computer performances, and to determine whether these differences arise from an inability or unwillingness on the part of musicians to conceive of computer partners as intentional and creative.


  • Bishop, L., and Goebl, W. (2017). Communication for coordination: Gesture kinematics and conventionality affect synchronization success in piano duos. Psychological Research, published online 21 July 2017. doi: 10.1007/s00426-017-0893-3.
  • Bishop, L., & Goebl, W. (2016). Music and movement: Musical instruments and performers. In R. Ashley & R. Timmers (Eds.), Routledge Companion to Music Cognition. New York: Routledge. (pp. 349–361).

Research staff

  • Laura Bishop
  • Werner Goebl
  • Martin Bonev



Key facts