Deepening Musical Performance through Movement

The Theory and Practice of Embodied Interpretation

Indiana University Press, 2007


   The approach of the book is to isolate elements of music such as melody, beat, structural levels, and character, and then to search out through movement the defining quality of each. Over time and with repetition, the movements evolve; they connect more and more vividly with the sound. Although simple, they engage the attention in complex ways and can be integrated into the daily practice of a musician.

    Focused movement gives an audible payoff in a performer's sound—that is, movement to which you give careful conscious attention so that it reflects accurately the musical element under scrutiny in a specific passage. Melodies become more shapely, their energy more varied; phrases become articulate and coherent; arrivals at cadence reach into an embedding stillness; the rhythmic pattern of middleground harmonic progression brings life into phrases, and so forth. The movements are suggestive for technique, and often they can be translated directly into playing gesture and singing. They become part of your technical command.

    The book is organized around topics of music theory. The goal has been to make theory as relevant, intriguing, and useful as it can be to practicing musicians and theory researchers.

ISBN: 978-0-253-34933-0.  In the series Musical Meaning and Interpretation. Distribution worldwide.         248 pages. Cloth. $44.95.

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Chapter List

1. Vitalizing the Musical Elements, One by One

2. Mobilizing Balance

3. Melody Awakened: Seven Stages for Embodying Its Contour

4. Resilience of Meter and Rhythm

5. The Integration of Structural Levels

6. Shaping Phrase with Span and Climax

7. Letting Gesture Through: Reverberation

8. The Movements of Juncture

9. Characterizing

10. Tone of Voice

11. The Spirit of Play



Table of Contents



To performers

To music theorists

To composers

To movement professionals

To music therapists

1. Vitalizing the Musical Elements, One by One

Movement in the studio and in theory teaching

Movement becomes more musical

Focusing and refining movement

Movement as a Schenkerian discipline

Principles of effective movement

Movement processes for research and teaching

2. Mobilizing Balance

Balance and grounding

Resting balance, sitting

A familiar class scene

Resting balance, standing

Activated balance

The Sitting Balance Process; the Standing Balance Process


Common snares

The games of Where are you? Where am I?

Activated balance and the cadential tonic


Spinal flexibility

Sitting sways

Standing sways

Common snares when swaying

The Swaying Process


Swaying and melody

Core support

Recognizing core support


Core support in playing

Weight-throwing into action

Arm swings, forward and backward

Weight-throwing, with regard to measure and beat

Re-absorption and completion of action


The game of Where is it?

The gracious curve

The Gracious Curve Process, Standing

The Gracious Curve Process, Sitting

The Gracious Curve Process and playing technique

Doing the processes

3. Melody Awakened (letters between Tomas and Sorelich)


Finding the main melody

Contouring melody

Stage 1. Laddering the pitches and intervals

Stage 2. Emphasizing continuity

Stage 3. Emphasizing melody’s shape

The game of static and dynamic contours

Stage 4. Engaging the whole body

        Source and respondent

Stage 5. Swaying, to take contouring into playing or singing

Stage 6. Embodying the nuances of melody

Stage 7. Melody’s affect

4. Resilience of Meter and Rhythm



Equality and variety of beats

Arm swings, side to side

Tapping the air

Metric levels

Meter and phrase

Gracious curve, for a detailed experience of ping and lilt

Sonya, part 1

Balloon tapping, to refine the ping


Ping circles

Sonya, part 2


Hypermeasure soft-springs, in pairs

Counting aloud


Finding rhythmic clusters

Walking the durations

Evelyn and Ricardo

5. The Integration of Structural Levels

Toward an engaged music theory


Leading questions

Fundamental attributes of Schenkerian sound


Coalescence and middleground rhythmic vitality

Coalescence as a musical quality

Kosta, part 1

Middleground rhythmic vitality as a musical quality


Coalescence and middleground rhythmic vitality as movement: stepping


Kosta, part 2

Coalescence and middleground rhythmic vitality in a non-musical context


Other contributors to Schenkerian sound


Melody and meter



6. Shaping Phrase

Span and climax in performance phrase

Span as a musical quality

Slow-motion sculpting

Span as movement: hand-stretch


Arcing with an arm to find performance phrases


Arm-arcing to find span and climax

Stepping and stretching, ad lib.


A chain of processes: “Daphne am Bach”

Graduate theory class


Middleground rhythmic vitality



7. Letting Gesture Through: Reverberation

Juncture and reverberation

Reverberation as expression


Cutting off reverberation: Nathan and Melissa

Reverberative movement

Embodying reverberation


Joints and touch

Joint dance

Spinal flexibility and tone quality

Spinal flexibility and melody

The game of “Listen!”: Jonathan and Valerie

8. The Movements of Juncture (more letters between Tomas and Sorelich)

9. Characterizing

Musical character

Clearing the decks: Adrian, part 1

Movement for characterizing

Character-motif and characterized bearing: Adrian, part 2

Character-rhythm: Jennifer

10. Tone of Voice

Tone of voice and affect

Notation and tone of voice

Musical empathy

Arousing tone of voice

Descriptive word

Vocal inflection

Facial response

Full-bodied gestural response


Adjectives and adverbs

Quick starts

The game of gargoyles

Variety of affects in a single phrase: Aldo

Balance and calm as reference points: Leah

Characterizing movement versus tone of voice

Tone of voice and structural levels

11. The Spirit of Play

Practicing play




    Games to invite play

        Spinning a spider’s web (fluent continuity of melody)

        Alphabet (ping and lilt in hypermeter)

        Opening-closing (span of phrase)

De Kooning painting (articulation of phrases; contrast of phrase and juncture)

        Sweet Sixteenths (characterizing)

        Ensemble and showmanship

In a nutshell

Aldo and Marta

“ Musicians and music teachers will take from it both a sense of liberation and an incentive for more imaginative discipline. . .

This is a music theory book with a difference and one that fills a need . . .

Its scholarship is deep and persuasive. The book promises to be an important contribution for musical scholarship, musical practice, and music pedagogy.”

                        —Professor David Lidov, York University

“. . . [T]his book brings all aspects of music to life via kinesthetic understanding. . . . Pierce’s extensive research is obvious, but though the book assumes considerable knowledge of the discipline, personal anecdotes and musical references render it relatively easy to digest. . . . Highly recommended.”


“Whether you teach private or group instrumental or vocal lessons, music theory, composition, music therapy or music appreciation, you will find a wealth of ideas to use with your students . . . The value of this book is that Pierce incorporates these movement ideas into one context—their relationship to the elements of music.”

                        —American Music Teacher