How music touches: Musical parameters and listeners' audio-tactile metaphorical mappings

Zohar Eitan*, Inbar Rothschild

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Though the relationship of touch and sound is central to music performance, and audio-tactile metaphors are pertinent to musical discourse, few empirical studies have investigated systematically how musical parameters such as pitch height, loudness, timbre and their interactions affect auditory-tactile metaphorical mappings. In this study, 40 participants (20 musically trained) rated the appropriateness of six dichotomous tactile metaphors (sharp-blunt, smooth-rough, soft-hard, light-heavy, warm-cold and wet-dry) to 20 sounds varying in pitch height, loudness, instrumental timbre (violin vs. flute) and vibrato. Results (repeated measures MANOVA) suggest that tactile metaphors are strongly associated with all musical variables examined. For instance, higher pitches were rated as significantly sharper, rougher, harder, colder, drier and lighter than lower pitches. We consider several complementary accounts of the findings: psychophysical analogies between tactile and auditory sensory processing; experiential analogies, based on correlations between tactile and auditory qualities of sound sources in daily experience; and analogies based on abstract semantic dimensions, particularly potency and activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-467
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • cross-modal interaction
  • haptic
  • loudness
  • metaphor
  • music performance
  • tactile


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