Live music is best, for too many reasons to list. But as far as practice is concerned, when you see somebody play your instrument in front of you, your brain lights up in almost the exact same way as the performing musician. It’s called the mirror neuron system, a topic I’ve written about many times. Below is an excerpt and link to a new study confirming that live music engages us more than a recording.
How Live Music Moves Us: Head Movement Differences in Audiences to Live Versus Recorded Music
Dana Swarbrick, Dan Bosnyak, Steven R. Livingstone, Jotthi Bansal, Susan Marsh-Rollo, Matthew H. Woolhouse, Laurel J. Trainor1
A live music concert is a pleasurable social event that is among the most visceral and memorable forms of musical engagement. But what inspires listeners to attend concerts, sometimes at great expense, when they could listen to recordings at home? An iconic aspect of popular concerts is engaging with other audience members through moving to the music. Head movements, in particular, reflect emotion and have social consequences when experienced with others. Previous studies have explored the affiliative social engagement experienced among people moving together to music. But live concerts have other features that might also be important, such as that during a live performance the music unfolds in a unique and not predetermined way, potentially increasing anticipation and feelings of involvement for the audience. Being in the same space as the musicians might also be exciting. Here we controlled for simply being in an audience to examine whether factors inherent to live performance contribute to the concert experience. We used motion capture to compare head movement responses at a live album release concert featuring Canadian rock star Ian Fletcher Thornley, and at a concert without the performers where the same songs were played from the recorded album. We also examined effects of a prior connection with the performers by comparing fans and neutral-listeners, while controlling for familiarity with the songs, as the album had not yet been released. Head movements were faster during the live concert than the album-playback concert. Self-reported fans moved faster and exhibited greater levels of rhythmic entrainment than neutral-listeners. These results indicate that live music engages listeners to a greater extent than pre-recorded music and that a pre-existing admiration for the performers also leads to higher engagement.