Sound guiding action: the effect of timbre on learning a new percussive DMI for beginner musicians

Bonnie Smith*, Matthew Rodger, Maarten Van Walstijn, Miguel Ortiz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Learning to play a digital musical instrument (DMI) may be affected by the acoustic behaviour of that instrument, in addition to its physical characteristics and form. However, how the timbral properties of an instrument affect learning has received little systematic empirical research. In an exploratory study, we assessed whether timbral feedback from a physical model based percussive DMI influences beginner players’ performance in a musical learning task. We contrasted the timbral richness of a metallic plate physical model with an amplitude modulated pink-noise signal that was comparable in response to input controls but with relatively reduced timbral features. Two groups of participants practiced three sets of simple beats using their respective version of the instrument (physical model or pink noise), over the course of an hour. Their performance was recorded throughout and assessed in the form of rhythmic timing accuracy. Results showed that participants’ performance in both sound groups significantly improved throughout the task. Timing accuracy was significantly better in the physical model group for one out of three sets of beats. We argue that the timbral feedback of a musical instrument may influence beginner’s playing experience, encouraging further research into how this could benefit DMI design.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2023 International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, NIME 2023
Publication statusAccepted - 28 Feb 2023
EventInternational Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression 2023 - Mexico City, Mexico
Duration: 31 May 202302 Jun 2023

Publication series

NameNIME Proceedings Archive
ISSN (Electronic)2220-4806


ConferenceInternational Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression 2023
Abbreviated titleNIME 2023
CityMexico City
Internet address


  • timbre
  • auditory-motor perception
  • digital musical instruments
  • control
  • musical learning
  • physicality
  • percussion


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