Optimal feedback correction in string quartet synchronization

A. M. Wing, S. Endo, Adrian Bradbury, D. Vorberg

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72 Citations (Scopus)
667 Downloads (Pure)


Control of relative timing is critical in ensemble music performance. We hypothesize that players respond to and correct asynchronies in tone onsets that arise from fluctuations in their individual tempos. We propose a first-order linear phase correction model and demonstrate that optimal performance that minimizes asynchrony variance predicts a specific value for the correction gain. In two separate case studies, two internationally recognized string quartets repeatedly performed a short excerpt from the fourth movement of Haydn's quartet Op. 74 no. 1, with intentional, but unrehearsed, expressive variations in timing. Time series analysis of successive tone onset asynchronies was used to estimate correction gains for all pairs of players. On average, both quartets exhibited near-optimal gain. However, individual gains revealed contrasting patterns of adjustment between some pairs of players. In one quartet, the first violinist exhibited less adjustment to the others compared with their adjustment to her. In the second quartet, the levels of correction by the first violinist matched those exhibited by the others. These correction patterns may be seen as reflecting contrasting strategies of first-violin-led autocracy versus democracy. The time series approach we propose affords a sensitive method for investigating subtle contrasts in music ensemble synchronization.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20131125
JournalJournal of The Royal Society Interface
Issue number93
Early online date29 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2014


  • music ensemble
  • synchronization
  • feedback correction
  • expressive variation
  • time-series models


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