Performing on Cue

How Musicians Recover from Mistakes during Memorized Performances

A series of longitudinal case studies has examined how musicians prepare a musical composition to perform it from memory in front of a live audience. These investigations have provided evidence that the musicians establish landmarks in the music—performance cues—to which they must direct their attention in order for the piece to be performed successfully. The researches have also suggested that in the event of a memory failure, the performance cues provide the musician with a landmark from which to commence playing. Doing so is preferable to going back to the very beginning of the piece and hoping that the same error does not occur again. By using a cued-recall technique, this project investigates the claim that musicians are better at beginning to play from performance cues than from locations in the music that are not performance cues. Results obtained thus far suggest that a highly skilled musician would find it easiest to commence playing from a location where s/he had made a decision about the musical expression to convey to the audience, and hardest to commence from a location where s/he typically has to pay attention to basic technique.