It turns out that, when viewing (and judging) a musical performance, what you see may be more important than what you hear.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that among both casual listeners and experts, the visuals of classical music performances were far more influential than the actual sounds of them in the participants’ overall accuracy in judging which pre-recorded performances had been winners of various prestigious music competitions.
As Discover points out, though many of the participants said that sound was the most important part of a musical performance, those same participants were far less successful at accurately determining the winners of each music competition when given audio-only performances to judge.
Why were visuals so important? It seems that it comes down to one measure: the perceived passion of the performer. Participants asked to identify the most passionate-looking performers among all of the clips they watched, were far more likely to accurately predict the winners of the competitions.
The idea is, for music, much like other creative pursuits like art or writing, being emotionally expressive is considered a crucial aspect of it. Often the best songs are the ones that convey and elicit an strong emotional response. And if that’s the case, then emotions like passion are usually much easier to notice in a musician’s facial expressions or gestures than in just their music alone.
It seems that just like food, we consume musical performances with our eyes first.