Iconicity Symposium: Löfgren & Hofstetter – Depiction vs. rehearsal

Löfgren & Hofstetter will present at the 12th Int. Symposium on Iconicity in Language & Literature, May3-5, Lund.

Depiction vs. rehearsal: Comparing how professional musicians use depictive playing and rehearsal playing

In this paper, we examine how musicians switch between iconic demonstrations and rehearsals of passages of music. Using two data corpora of professional musicians rehearsing, we will investigate what practices the musicians use to distinguish playing-as-depiction and playing-as-rehearsing. Prior interactional literature examining musical rehearsal has focused on formal instruction environments such as (master)classes (Szczepek-Reed et al. 2013; Tolins 2013). In contrast, our study provides interaction between colleagues who are developing and rehearsing pieces, rather than instructing musical skills.

In switching between suggestions for how to play and actually playing the music, Reed (2015) has described ‘the relinquishing move’, which is when a teacher indicates instruction has completed and the performer may commence. However, professionals in our data do not necessary ‘relinquish’ the performance space, as they are part of the next iteration of the music; they play as a group. Furthermore, we ask how the players come to understand the iconic demonstrations of music that occur during suggestions and instructions are understood as iconic – i.e., how they are understood to be depictions, rather than simply restarts of playing-as-rehearsing themselves.

The data come from two corpora of naturally occurring (Potter, 2002) video recordings in Swedish: a professional rock band rehearsal (2 hours) and a series of rehearsals in professional opera company (12 hours). The data are analyzed with conversation analysis. Conversation analysis grounds the study in the musicians’ understandings as displayed to each other, in situ (Schegloff, 2007), which prioritizes an emic understanding of the rehearsal and the use of iconicity.

Depiction and rehearsal have different trajectories. Depictive sections are shorter, and demonstrative of what should be done while playing next. Playing-as-rehearsing invites the other musicians to play, and has the potential to build into a full production of a song. Musicians begin with lexical, indexical suggestions (1, below), and move into depiction where necessary, first verbally (2), then by playing (3). For example, below the bassist suggests an alternate drum playing, and re-designs his suggestion until intersubjectivity is achieved:

1) så de e som att du spelar fy- en fyra mot våran trea

so it’s like you play fou- a four against our three

2) =asså så om du spelar du du ka du du du$ du ka

like so if you play du du ka du du du du ka…

3) a-a-asså om du spelar…

so if you play ((begins to play drums))

Doing actual playing as demonstration can risk starting the full production of a song, which is harder to stop and start. Musicians hear playing as depiction, not the opening of playing-as-rehearsal, until proven otherwise.

In summary, we investigate a set of practices for distinguishing musical playing as iconic (playing-as-depiction) vs. starting a song (playing-as-rehearsal).


Potter, J. (2002). Two kinds of natural. Discourse Studies, 4(4), 539-542.

Reed, D.J. (2015). Relinquishing in musical masterclasses: Embodied action in interactional projects. Journal of Pragmatics, 89, 31-49.

Schegloff, E.A. (2007). Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambidge University Press.

Szczepek-Reed, B., Reed, D. & Haddon, E. (2013). NOW or NOT NOW: Coordinating restarts in the pursuit of learnables in vocal master classes. Research on Language & Social Interaction, 46(1), 22-46.

Tolins, J. (2013). Assessment and direction through nonlexical vocalizations in music instruction. Research on Language & Social Interaction, 46(1), 47-64.