A keyboardist plays left to right (lower to higher notes). A violinist, the higher the notes, the fingers go nearer the body. A Double-bassist, the higher the notes, the fingers go towards the floor. Guitarist: higher notes, the fingers at an angle down towards right but on left-hand-side.

I'm highlighting the point that different instrumentalists produce different pitches in different parts of space. I'm saying that a violinist will produce the same pitch in a different space than a guitarist and their perception will be different. Maybe even giving a guitarist a certain point in space they will perceive a certain pitch.

The synaesthasia phenomena might be related.
Wondering if there is any studies, research or musicology into this?

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    Interesting. Where does bugle fit in?! – Tim Jul 10 '20 at 7:04
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    I don't think, that the spatial distribution is prominent. Even if the string has a different position, the resonance frame with soundboard of a piano, the soundboard of a violin or guitar which do the necessary amplification are in a different location and always in the same position, no matter, which string solicites it. – guidot Jul 10 '20 at 7:17
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    To add on this, the spatial wavelength of the sounds produced by these instruments is usually quite large (or of the same order) compared to the instrument itself. Localization is not very defined when talking about distances which are shorter than the WL… – Tom Jul 10 '20 at 7:34
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    I just tried it on the guitar. I rotated the guitar 180 degrees, reversing the left/right pitch orientation. It took about three seconds to get adjusted to having the neck the other way around to play simple melodies with reasonable accuracy. :) Also note that the pitches are not completely linear on a violin, guitar, etc. because there are multiple strings with overlapping pitch ranges. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jul 10 '20 at 9:39
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    You can held an E- guitar horizontally or neck down or neck up, once similar to a violinist, once like a bassist. When I play my brass instrument my spatial perception is associated with the notation of sheetmusic, high = up, low = down. Teaching guitar lessons I always trained the children to be oriented by the sound and not by the place or the layer the held the instrument. There are certainly studies about music and space, but I don‘t think there are specific researches about your concern. – Albrecht Hügli Jul 10 '20 at 11:50

Maybe the term you are looking for is body mapping?

Body Mapping

Body Mapping is the conscious correcting and refining of one’s body map to produce efficient, graceful, and coordinated movement. The body map is one’s self-representation in one’s own brain, one’s assumptions or conception of what one’s body is like, in whole or part. If our representation is accurate, movement is good. If our representation is faulty, movement suffers. When our map is corrected, the movement improves. Progress can be very rapid and a musician can, over time, learn to play like a natural.

Our body maps are like directions to a gig. If the directions are good, you will arrive easily and in plenty of time. But if the directions are incomplete or wrong, you might end up being late or not arriving at all!

Body maps need not be conscious. Many performers, often seen as “naturals,” exhibit fine, free body use. By experience and effective modeling during their development, they have managed to maintain complete and accurate maps unconsciously. Musicians who do not move efficiently may benefit from correcting or enhancing their body maps by observing and imitating the natural movers whose body maps are good.

About body mapping: How Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique Will Improve Your Playing

I don‘t think that a bassist has a very different spatial perception than a violinist. He won‘t think he is playing upwards because his hands move up when he plays downscale.

The Role of Haptic Cues in Musical Instrument Quality Perception

Any studies about it?

If you are searching for spatial perception look up these links:

The Spatial Properties of Music Perception: Differences in Visuo-spatial Ability According to Musicianship and Interference of Musical Structure

Seeing music: The perception of melodic 'ups and downs' modulates the spatial processing of visual stimuli

Sensory Evaluation of Sound by Nick Zacharov [book]

Spatial Perception and Physical Location as Factors in Music

or this one here:

Spatial vision is superior in musicians when memory plays a role


Musicians' perceptual advantage in the acoustic domain is well established. Recent studies show that musicians' verbal working memory is also superior. Additionally, some studies report that musicians' visuospatial skills are enhanced although others failed to find this enhancement. We now examined whether musicians' spatial vision is superior, and if so, whether this superiority reflects refined visual skills or a general superiority of working memory. We examined spatial frequency discrimination among musicians and nonmusician university students using two presentation conditions: simultaneous (spatial forced choice) and sequential (temporal forced choice). Musicians' performance was similar to that of nonmusicians in the simultaneous condition. However, their performance in the sequential condition was superior, suggesting an advantage only when stimuli need to be retained, i.e., working memory. Moreover, the two groups showed a different pattern of correlations: Musicians' visual thresholds were correlated, and neither was correlated with their verbal memory. By contrast, among nonmusicians, the visual thresholds were not correlated, but sequential thresholds were correlated with verbal memory scores, suggesting that a general working memory component limits their performance in this condition. We propose that musicians' superiority in spatial frequency discrimination reflects an advantage in a domain-general aspect of working memory rather than a general enhancement in spatial-visual skills.

  • Yes, there certainly is quite a lot in this answer. And thank you. Interesting on other person's perspective. e.g. I know about the Alexander Technique but wouldn't have associated it with this spatial perception I'm asking about. Body mapping is definitely a very good term for this topic itself. Thank you! – user70304 Jul 12 '20 at 1:35

This is purely anecdotal, so take it as such.

I played single-reeds for many years, and when I switched to 'cello I was concerned exactly about this: that all of a sudden moving my hands far away from my head would produce higher, not lower pitches. As it turned out , again in my case, it was exactly zero problem at all.

OTOH, if someone suddenly gave me an "upside down" cello, or a piano with reversed keyboard, then most certainly I'd go crazy. I think most musicians set their "body map" for a given instrument or class of instruments, even if the mapping differs between classes.

  • Or even a left-handed 'cello? I presume they exist. – Tim Jul 10 '20 at 15:38
  • @Tim you can purchase left-handed stringed/bowed instruments. The problem there is not so much "body-mapping" to tone or pitch, but suddenly the entire function of each hand changes. – Carl Witthoft Jul 10 '20 at 15:53
  • Actually, I guess there's no need to buy a left-handed 'cello - simply swap the strings and bridge round? Maybe the nut is problematic. – Tim Jul 10 '20 at 15:59
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    @Tim no that won't work. The fingerboard curve is asymmetric, as is the placement of the soundpost. – Carl Witthoft Jul 10 '20 at 17:36

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