Music cognition

Music cognition

Music cognition is an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mental processes that support musical behaviors, including perception, comprehension, memory, attention, and performance. Originally arising in fields of psychoacoustics and sensation, cognitive theories of how people understand music more recently encompass neuroscience, music theory, music therapy, computer science, philosophy, and linguistics.



Music cognition clearly came to be recognized as a discipline in the early 1980s, with the creation of the Society for Music Perception and Cognition, European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music, and the journal Music Perception. The field of music cognition focuses on how the mind makes sense of music as it is heard. It also deals with the related question of the cognitive processes involved when musicians perform music. Like language, music is a uniquely human capacity that arguably played a central role in the origins of human cognition. The ways in which music can illuminate fundamental issues in cognition have been underexamined, or even Austin dismissed as epiphenomenal. However, cognition in music is more and more acknowledged as fundamental to our understanding of cognition as a whole, hence music cognition should be able to contribute both conceptually and methodologically to cognitive science. Topics in the field include the following and others:

  • A listener's perception of grouping structure (motives, phrases, sections, etc.)
  • Rhythm and meter (perception and production)
  • Key inference
  • Expectation (including melodic expectation).
  • Musical similarity
  • Emotional, affective, or arousal response
  • Expressive, musical performance
  • Conceptual processing [1]

Some aspects of cognitive music theory describe how sound is perceived by a listener. While the study of human interpretations of sound is called psychoacoustics, the cognitive aspects of how listeners interpret sounds as musical events is commonly known as music cognition.

In the 1970s, music was studied in the sciences mainly for its acoustical and perceptual properties, in what were then relatively novel disciplines such as psychophysics and music psychology. Music scholars criticized much of this research for focusing too much on low-level issues of sensation and perception, often using impoverished stimuli (e.g., small rhythmic fragments) or music restricted to the Western classical repertoire, as well as a general unawareness of the role of music in its wider social and cultural context. However, the cognitive revolution made scientists more aware of the role and importance of these aspects.

Looking back briefly, twenty years ago music went either completely unmentioned in psychology handbooks or appeared only in a subsection on pitch or rhythm perception. Today it is recognized, along with vision and language, as an important and informative domain in which to study the various aspects of cognition which activate psychic processes, including expectation, emotion, perception and memory, and how they apply to therapy.[2] The role of music scholars and scientists in this latter research seems to be greater than ever. It could well be that music cognition will evolve into a prominent discipline contributing to our understanding of music just as much as more traditional analytic frameworks.[dubious ]

See also


  1. ^ Daltrozzo, J., Schön, D. (2009). Conceptual processing in music as revealed by N400 effects on words and musical targets. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(10): 1882-1892.[1]
  2. ^ Lehtonen, Kimmo (1987). "Creativity, the Symbolic Process and Object Relationships". The Creative Child and Adult Quarterly (Cincinnati, OH: National Association for Creative Children and Adults) 12 (4): 259–270. ISSN 0884-4291. ; cited in Degmečić, Dunja; Požgain, Ivan; Filaković, Pavo (December 2005). "Music as Therapy". International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music (Zagreb, Croatia: Croatian Musicological Society) 36 (2): 287–300. ISSN 0351-5796. 


Encyclopedia entries

  • Palmer, Caroline/Melissa K. Jungers (2003): Music Cognition. In: Lynn Nadel: Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science, Vol. 3, London: Nature Publishing Group, pp. 155–158.

Introductory reading

Intermediate reading

Journal articles

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Culture in music cognition — refers to the impact that a person s culture has on their music cognition, including their preferences, emotion recognition, and musical memory. Musical preferences are biased toward culturally familiar musical traditions beginning in infancy,… …   Wikipedia

  • Embodied music cognition — is a concept within musicology.A direction within systematic musicology interested in studying the role of the human body in relation to all musical activities. The human body is thereby considered as the natural mediator between mind (focused on …   Wikipedia

  • Music psychology — Music psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded as a branch of psychology or a branch of musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and musical experience. Modern music psychology is mainly empirical: music… …   Wikipedia

  • Music theory — is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identify patterns and structures in composers techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods. In a grand sense, music theory distills… …   Wikipedia

  • Music therapy — Intervention ICD 9 CM 93.84 MeSH …   Wikipedia

  • Music education — is a field of study associated with the teaching and learning of music. It touches on all domains of learning, including the psychomotor domain (the development of skills), the cognitive domain (the acquisition of knowledge), and, in particular… …   Wikipedia

  • Music, Thought, and Feeling — Music, Thought, and Feeling: Understanding the Psychology of Music   Author(s) William Forde Thompson …   Wikipedia

  • Music of Canada — General topics Portal Genres …   Wikipedia

  • Music of Canadian cultures — Music of Canada General topics Portal Genres …   Wikipedia

  • Music of Quebec — Timeline • Samples Genres Classical Folk Hip hop Jazz Pop Rock Specific forms Native American …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.