Skilled ensemble musicians coordinate with high precision, even when improvising or interpreting loosely defined notation. Successful coordination is supported primarily through shared attention to the musical output; however, musicians also interact visually, particularly when the musical timing is irregular. This study investigated the performance conditions that encourage visual signaling and interaction between ensemble members. Piano and clarinet duos rehearsed a new piece as their body motion was recorded. Analyses of head movement showed that performers communicated gesturally following held notes. Gesture patterns became more consistent as duos rehearsed, though consistency dropped again during a final performance given under no-visual-contact conditions. Movements were smoother and interperformer coordination was stronger during irregularly timed passages than elsewhere in the piece, suggesting heightened visual interaction. Performers moved more after rehearsing than before, and more when they could see each other than when visual contact was occluded. Periods of temporal instability and increased familiarity with the music and co-performer seem to encourage visual interaction, while specific communicative gestures are integrated into performance routines through rehearsal. We propose that visual interaction may support successful ensemble performance by affirming coordination throughout periods of temporal instability and serving as a social motivator to promote creative risk-taking.

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