Suppose you're learning to sing or play an instrument, and you'd start playing some piece of music. If you are not experienced enough, the tempo would be unstable, usually getting faster until the end.

This phenomenon is usual, as in this question on Music SE: https://music.stackexchange.com/questions/32405/why-i-tend-to-play-faster-tempo-without-realizing-it

Many correlates it with adrenaline and throbbing heartbeat, but is there an experiment-backed evidence to explain?

(Originally posted in Skeptics SE, but I think this should be the better place.)


Tempo should be an objective parameter in music. The same piece is heard differently at higher tempo than in lower tempo. This is sensible if you accept an Aristotelian perspective of music, whereby music is an attempt to represent something real (could be a person's emotions or natural sounds). The key in your question seems to be "not experienced enough". Such a musician can lose focus of the real, intended character behind the piece (if we follow the same Aristotelian perspective). He is likely to focus on short term aspects such as: Grasping the current melodic pattern or focus on his own ability to perform the piece. Focusing on your grasp of melody will make you tend to play faster since your fascination will come from the melody itself, and not from what it represents, or could represent. If you are interested in pushing your ability to perform, like many beginners are (for good reason), you might still tend towards a faster pace since it is simply more challenging neurologically, and might boost the so called "muscle memory". In any case, altering the tempo is altering the piece, and no skillful music performer is supposed to do that against the composer's wish! My own experience is both from playing and composing, even though I have only been doing the latter for quite some time now.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome and thanks for your answer. I don't think this answers the question why people [apparently, according to OP] tend to increase their tempo when playing an unfamiliar piece of music? $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 20 '18 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ The answer clearly does not include experimental information (which was requested) since I am not aware of any. Nevertheless, an explanation of the phenomenon is the inability of the inexperienced musician to stick to the premise of the song, focusing, instead, on "micro-scale" aspects, which are usually accentuated by a faster tempo. Simply put, forgetting about the big picture, caring only about the details, is a common fallacy which seems to support, in this case, the increase in tempo. Thank you for your comment! $\endgroup$ – Theofilos Gatsos Apr 20 '18 at 16:49
  • $\begingroup$ Gotcha, makes sense. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 20 '18 at 20:19

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