The Psychology of Music (Cognition and Perception)

The Psychology of Music (Cognition and Perception) 3rd Edition

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  1. Diana Deutsch
The Psychology of Music

The Psychology of Music serves as an introduction to an interdisciplinary field in psychology, which focuses on the interpretation of music through mental function. This interpretation leads to the characterization of music through perceiving, remembering, creating, performing, and responding to music.

In particular, the book provides an overview of the perception of musical tones by discussing different sound characteristics, like loudness, pitch and timbre, together with interaction between these attributes. It also discusses the effect of computer resources on the psychological study of music through computational modeling. In this way, models of pitch perception, grouping and voice separation, and harmonic analysis were developed. The book further discusses musical development in social and emotional contexts, and it presents ways that music training can enhance the singing ability of an individual.

The book can be used as a reference source for perceptual and cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and musicians. It can also serve as a textbook for advanced courses in the psychological study of music.


The aim of this book is to interpret musical phenomena in terms of mental function—to characterize the ways in which we perceive, remember, create, perform, and respond to music. The book is intended as a comprehensive reference source for perceptual and cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and musicians, as well as a textbook for advanced courses on the psychology of music.

In 1982, when the first edition of The Psychology of Music was published, this interdisciplinary field was in its infancy. Music had no established position within psychology, and few music theorists acknowledged the relevance of empirical research. The book, which drew together the diverse and scattered literature that had accumulated over the previous decade, was written by a group of visionaries from different areas of scholarship—psychologists, neuroscientists, engineers, music theorists and composers—who were committed to establishing this new discipline.

During the years since the first edition was published the field has expanded rapidly, and there have been enormous strides in our understanding of the psychology of music, particularly since publication of the second edition of this volume in 1999. This progress has been due in part to the development of computer technology, and more specifically to the availability of new software that has enabled researchers to generate, analyze and transform sounds with ease, precision and flexibility. Developments in neuroscience—in particular neuroimaging techniques—have led to an enormous increase in findings concerning the neuroanatomical substrates of musical processing. In addition, input from music theorists and composers continues to play a central role in addressing fundamental questions about the way we process musical structures.

The massive development of research on the psychology of music has resulted in the recent publication of a number of highly readable books on the subject written for a general audience. Among these are Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, Philip Ball’s The Music Instinct, and Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. William Thompson’s Music, Thought, and Feeling serves as an excellent textbook for undergraduate courses on the psychology of music. Other recently published and highly successful books include John Sloboda’s The Musical Mind, Aniruddh Patel’s Music, Language, and the Brain, and David Huron’s Sweet Anticipation. The present volume serves to provide in-depth coverage of research findings and theories in the different subareas of the field, written by world-renowned authorities in these subareas.

The volume opens with a chapter on The Perception of Musical Tones, by Andrew Oxenham (Chapter 1), which sets the stage for those that follow. Oxenham first reviews psychoacoustic methodology. Then drawing on behavioral and physio- logical evidence, together with theoretical models, he provides a thoughtful overview of findings concerning tone perception, particularly in musical contexts. Here we find discussions of loudness, pitch, and timbre, together with interactions between these attributes.
Consonance, dissonance, and roughness are also explored, as are higher-level interactions that occur when multiple pitches are presented.

The understanding of timbre perception is of central importance to composers of new music. In his interdisciplinary chapter Musical Timbre Perception (Chapter 2), Stephen McAdams provides a detailed exploration of research on timbre, particularly involving the multidimensional scaling of timbre spaces.
Such spaces have been put to intriguing use, for example in defining and exploiting fine-grained relationships between timbres. McAdams also discusses the perceptual blending of instruments to create new timbres, as well as the use of timbre to organize events into coherent groupings and to achieve perceptual separations between groupings.

Johan Sundberg’s provocative chapter on Perception of Singing (Chapter 3) addresses many puzzling questions. For example, how is it that we can hear a singer’s voice against a loud orchestral background? How are we able to identify sung vowels, even when these differ considerably from those of speech? How do we identify the gender and register of a particular singer even when the range of his or her voice is common to all singers and several registers? These questions are expertly addressed in the context of an overview of the acoustics of the singing voice.

In Intervals and Scales (Chapter 4), William Thompson examines our sensitivity to pitch relationships in music, and to the musical scales that help us organize these relationships—issues that are essential to the understanding of music perception. The chapter addresses questions such as how musical intervals are processed by the auditory system, whether certain intervals have a special perceptual status, and why most music is organized around scales. One discussion of particular importance concerns the characteristics of scales that appear as cross-cultural universals, and those that appear to be culture-specific.

The genesis of absolute pitch has intrigued musicians for centuries, and this is explored in Absolute Pitch (Deutsch, Chapter 5). Is it an inherited trait that becomes manifest as soon as the opportunity arises? Alternatively, can it be acquired at any time through extensive practice? Or does it depend on exposure to pitches in association with their names during a critical period early in life? These hypotheses are explored, and evidence for a strong tie with speech and language is discussed. The neuroanatomical substrates of absolute pitch are examined, as are relationships between this abililty and other abilities.

Consider what happens when we listen to a performance by an orchestra. The sounds that reach our ears are produced by many instruments playing in parallel. How does our auditory system sort out this mixture of sounds, so that we may choose to listen to a particular instrument, or to a particular melodic line? Grouping Mechanisms in Music (Deutsch, Chapter 6) examines this and related questions, drawing from perceptual and physiological studies, together with input from music theorists. It is also shown that listeners may perceptually reorganize what they hear, so that striking illusions result.

The next chapter, on The Processing of Pitch Combinations (Deutsch, Chapter 7) explores how pitch is represented in the mind of the listener at different levels of abstraction. The chapter examines how listeners organize pitches in music so as to perceive coherent phrases, and it is argued that at the highest level of abstraction music is represented in the form of coherent patterns that are linked together as hierarchical structures. The chapter also surveys research on short-term memory for different features of tone, and explores a number of musical illusions that are related to speech.

With the development of computer resources, computational modeling has assumed increasing importance in the field of music cognition—particularly in combination with behavioral and physiological studies. In Computational Models of Music Cognition (Chapter 8), David Temperley provides a thoughtful overview and evaluation of research in the field. He examines models of key and meter identification in detail. In addition, he discusses models of pitch perception, grouping and voice separation, and harmonic analysis. Models of music performance (includ- ing expressivity) are evaluated, as are models of musical experience. Finally, com- puter algorithms for music composition are considered.

Research concerning temporal aspects of music perception and cognition has expanded considerably over the last decade. In Structure and Interpretation of Rhythm in Music (Chapter 9), Henkjan Honing provides an overview of findings concerning the perception of rhythm, meter, tempo, and timing, from both a music theoretic and a cognitive perspective. He also considers how listeners distill a discrete rhythmic pattern from a continuous series of intervals, and emphasizes that rhythms as they are perceived often deviate considerably from the temporal patterns that are presented. Related to this, the roles of context, expectations and long- term familiarity with the music are discussed.

The performance of music draws on a multitude of complex functions, including the visual analysis of musical notations, translating these into motor acts, coordinating information from different sensory modalities, employing fine motor skills, and the use of auditory feedback. In Music Performance: Movement and Coordination (Chapter 10), Caroline Palmer addresses these issues, particularly focusing on recent work involving the use of new motion capture and video analysis techniques. She also considers research on ensemble playing, in particular how musicians conform the details of their performance to those of other members of the ensemble.

Laurel Trainor and Erin Hannon, in Musical Development (Chapter 11), address fundamental issues concerning the psychology of music from a developmental perspective. Following a discussion of musical capacities at various stages of development, the authors consider innate and environmental influences, including the roles played by critical periods. They consider those aspects of musical processing that appear universal, and those that appear specific to particular cultures. They also review findings indicating that music and language have overlapping neurological substrates. As a related issue, the authors examine effects of musical training on linguistic and other cognitive abilities.

Continuing with Music and Cognitive Abilities (Chapter 12), Glenn Schellenberg and Michael Weiss provide a detailed appraisal of associations between music and other cognitive functions. The chapter discusses cognitive ability immediately following listening to music (termed the “Mozart effect”), the effects of background music on cognitive function, and associations between musical training and various cognitive abilities. The authors provide evidence that musical training is associated with general intelligence, and more specifically with linguistic abilities. They argue, therefore, that musical processing is not solely the function of specialized modules, but also reflects general properties of the cognitive system.

Isabelle Peretz, in The Biological Foundations of Music: Insights from Congenital Amusia (Chapter 13), stresses the opposing view—that musical ability is distinct from language, and is subserved primarily by specialized neural networks. Here she focuses on congenital amusia—a musical disability that cannot be attributed to mental retardation, deafness, lack of exposure, or brain damage after birth. She discusses evidence for an association of this condition with an unusual brain organization, and provides evidence that congenital amusia has a genetic basis.

Relationships between musical ability and other abilities are further considered by Catherine Wan and Gottfried Schlaug, in Brain Plasticity Induced by Musical Training (Chapter 14). The authors point out that music lessons involve training a host of complex skills, including coordination of multisensory information with bimanual motor activity, development of fine motor skills, and the use of auditory feedback. They review findings showing effects of musical training on brain organization, and they focus on research in their laboratory that explores the therapeutic potential of music-based interventions in facilitating speech in chronic stroke patients with aphasia, and in autistic children.

The reason why music invokes emotions has been the subject of considerable debate. In their chapter on Music and Emotion (Chapter 15) Patrik Juslin and John Sloboda provide a thoughtful overview of findings and theories in the field. They draw an important distinction between emotion as expressed in music, and emotion as induced in the listener, pointing out that there is no simple relation between the two. They hypothesize that many of the characteristics of musical communication can best be explained, at least in part, in terms of a code for expression of the basic emotional categories by the human voice.

In Comparative Music Cognition: Cross-Species and Cross-Cultural Studies (Chapter 16), Aniruddh Patel and Steven Demorest address two issues of funda- mental importance to the understanding of musical processing. First, which musical capacities are uniquely human, and which do we share with nonhuman species? In addressing this issue, the authors shed light on the evolution of musical abilities. The second issue concerns the enormous diversity of human music across cultures. Theories and research findings that are based on the music of a single tradition are in principle limited in their application. The authors present evidence that certain aspects of music cross cultural lines while others are culture-specific, so clarifying the scope of existing theory.

The book concludes with Robert Gjerdingen’s Psychologists and Musicians: Then and Now (Chapter 17), which supplies an engaging and informative overview of past and present thinking about the psychology of music. In reviewing approaches to this subject over the centuries, Gjerdingen contrasts those that stress low-level factors such as the physiology of the inner ear with those that consider musical processing in terms of complex, high-order functions. The chapter includes intriguing biographical information concerning some of the notable contributors to the field, which are reflected in their formal writings about music and musical pro- cessing. The chapter also provides a critical overview of the psychology of music as it stands today.

An interdisciplinary volume such as this one can only be considered a group endeavor, and I am grateful to all the authors, who have devoted so much time and thought in bringing the book to fruition. I am grateful to Nikki Levy and Barbara Makinster for their help, and am particularly grateful to Kirsten Chrisman, Publishing Director of Life Sciences Books at Elsevier, for her wise and effective guidance, and to Katie Spiller for her expertise and professionalism in producing the book.

Diana Deutsch
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