My curiosity about percussion drawn from a lifetime of study has led to several interesting questions about how music “works.” I use these questions to inform the work pursued by my research team in the MAPLE Lab. Here are four examples of insights drawn from my musical experiences. For full details and additional information, please visit the official MAPLE Lab website.

1. Can we play long and short notes on the marimba?

Can we change the duration of marimba notes by using long and short gestures? When studying with Michael Burritt at Northwestern, he was suggesting I use gestures to shape the way audiences would hear a performance. This got me pondering whether it is possible for visual information (such as the particular ways we move when performing) can play a meaningful role in the musical experience. I have presented this work in several articles within Percussive Notes (Schutz, 2009; Schutz & Manning, 2013), and here discuss it on a segment of Hamilton Life. I also discussed this with Rita Celli on Ontario Today which is available below:

2. What actually happens during Steve Reich’s Drumming?

In this study involving NEXUS members Russell Hartenberger and Bob Becker, I explored what “really happens” when we attempt phases in Steve Reich’s landmark composition Drumming. Exploring this major work with two of its most experience and respected interpreters has been a fascinating opportunity to delve deeply into the piece’s history and performance practice. It has also led to several fascinating opportunities, such as hosting NEXUS for a lecture-workshop at McMaster, as well the opportunity to play Music for Pieces of Wood with them during March of 2020. For interactive visualizations of the project and the complete lecture-workshop

3. How does “moving to the beat” improve rhythm perception ?

Many percussionists tap their toes or make other silent movements while playing to help improve timekeeping. Can this also help us hear music more accurately? Alternatively, many students have told me their teachers asked such movements are distracting and should not be used when performing. In order to explore this issue, my team tested over 150 percussionists at two PASICs (Percussive Arts Society International Convention), which showed how “tapping to hear” can be musically beneficial. Here I discuss these results on 94.7 with Kathy Hyde (for a project over view see

4. How do composers convey emotion messages in music?

Is the xylophone an inherently happy instrument? How are composers able to encode powerful messages in music? These questions for a core part of my team’s research agenda, and here I discuss some of our findings on the classic TV program The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. They visited the lab to discuss and share some examples of “happy xylophone” music. For more information see

5. Greater interest in percussive sounds could save your life!

My research on marimba gestures led to an interest in sound analysis and synthesis, which led to a application far beyond percussion performance-improving the sounds used in hospital medical devices! My TEDx talk on this topic summaries the problems, and how paying a bit more attention to percussive sounds could actually improve public health and even reduce hospital deaths. If this seems hard to believe, check out this talk and let

If you are interested in more reading relating to the auditory alarms project please visit the projects’ summary page on the MAPLE Lab site.

Sample publications aligning with these videos are available for download here.

Relevant Publications

webpage Dr Michael Schutz – musical alarms: Improving Medical Environments by studying sound • Scientia Global. (2021, July 7).
webpage  Schutz, M. (2019). What Really Happens in Steve Reich’s “Drumming?”. Percussive Notes: Technology, 86-89.
webpage  Schutz, M. (2016). Lessons from the laboratory: The musical translation of scientific research on movement. Cambridge Companion to Percussion. Russell Hartenberger, Ed.
webpage  Schutz, M., & Manning, F. (2012). Looking beyond the score: The musical role of percussionists’ ancillary gestures. Music Theory Online, 18 (1), 1-14.
pdf  Schutz, M., Huron, D., Keeton, K., & Loewer, G. (2008). The Happy Xylophone: Acoustic affordances restrict an emotional palette. Empirical Musicology Review, 3 (3), 126–135.

Complete list of publications are available on my lab’s publications page.


In addition to performing and teaching percussion, I direct the MAPLE Lab researching Music, Acoustics, Perception & LEarning. My curiosity about percussion drawn from a lifetime of study has led to several interesting questions about how music “works.” For example, we conduct empirical research that examines the psychological roots of the musical experience. We investigate musically-inspired questions such as how a performer’s body movements affect the way audiences “hear” music, why “moving-to-the-beat” improves the auditory experience, and how composers and performers communicate emotional meaning.

We aim to contribute to issues of broad relevance to auditory perception and cognition: assessing theoretical frameworks of audio-visual integration, exploring sensorimotor interactions, and investigating parallels in the communication of emotion in language and music.  Consequently, we are invested not only in contributing to core issues in music cognition, but also applying our findings to a broad range of topics in cognitive psychology, music pedagogy, cognitive neuroscience, and auditory perception. For more information, visit us online at

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