Cardiac Response to Musical Performance: Flowing with Rhythm
In July 2017, I conducted an experiment at the Faculty of Music to explore the relationship between expressive piano performance and heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is a measure of the variability in length of time between beats. We can subject it to behavioural modulation through several tactics, one of which is music. HRV is broken down into different frequency components that signify different rhythms. We hypothesized that the cardiac rhythms would entrain to the musical rhythms through the mediating mechanism of breathing, as performers often breathe in rhythm with their music. We also hypothesized that the performers would experience increased flow, or a psychological state of complete focus, with increased entrainment. We had pianists at an RCM grade 8 level or higher, many of which were Faculty of Music Students, perform Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major, Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1, and a piece of their choice while we measured their breathing and HRV. They then filled out a questionnaire describing their level of flow. We are currently analyzing the data and investigating the relationships between HRV and tempo, pitch, and phrasing. This project received approval from the University of Toronto Human Research Ethics Program.