Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Does it matter what your child listens too?

This week a link to a newspaper article by Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe. Last week he phoned a number of researchers in music cognition asking for advice on what to play to his newborn son; he was wondering whether he could take advantage of the latest insights presented at the Music & Language Conference organized by Tufts University. The newspaper article reports on advice given by prominent cognitive scientists like Steven Pinker, Laurel Trainer and Glenn Schellenberg, but also mentions our work on musical competence and the role of exposure that is about to be published.

See Jeremy Eichler’s light-hearted personal report in the Boston Globe of his 'yearlong quest to grasp the infant musical mind' (or pdf).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Has it been 25 years already?

The Music & Language conference —seeing its second edition this year— is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff's landmark book ‘A Generative Theory of Tonal Music’ (GTTM for short). An important book in the short history of music cognition that is widely cited, from computer science to experimental psychology.

As I wrote elsewhere (Honing, 2006), I believe that the fact that theories —such as GTTM—, with the ambition to formalize certain aspects of music theory, has led to a greater visibility of musicology at large, especially outside the humanities. The fact that a theory is presented in a formal way allows for an easier formulation of hypotheses, the making of precise predictions, and, consequently, the testing and evaluation of these. As such, it makes this style of music theory compelling to both computer scientists and experimental psychologists. This development is an important example of how a methodology (adapted from, and shared with the sciences) serves as a vehicle — a format for the transmission of ideas between science and the humanities— that turned out to be very influential.

However, it has to be noted that there are also examples that were less successful. For instance, theories on music that were developed in the sciences, such as Christopher Longuet-Higgins’ work in the 1970s. This research did not reach the music community in the way one would have expected, even though it is presented in a compelling and formalized form. Thus, the transmission of ideas in formalized form could well be primarily one-directional :-\

On Thursday night Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff’s both joined the stage and reflected on what happened then, in the period leading up to the publication of the book, the late 1970s. While both went their own ways since then, the memories radiated a close, and mutually inspiring relationship effectuated in meetings at kitchen tables and private homes. One more example that interdisciplinary and collaborative work can lead to important developments and changes in science.

Lerdahl, F., Jackendoff, R. (1983). A generative theory of tonal music. Cambridge: MIT Press

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A fascination for music cognition?

This week a link to an episode of UvA's tv-series The Fascination. This episode is on music cognition, and is directed by Bob van Gijzel. Click here for the ten minute video with English subtitles.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Listen and learn?

This week Nature published a last in a series of nine essays on the topic of Science and Music, containing essays by Huron, Trainor, Patel and others (see also podcast). The last one was by John Sloboda, renowned for his excellent research in the psychology of music, music and emotion and a variety of educational issues in music. In his essay he stresses —like in his well-known article What makes a musician?— that talent for music is a myth, in the sense that it is not special but a 'talent' we all share. Listen and learn is one of the headings of the essay. Sloboda writes:
"One beneficial effect of the careful scientific probing of listeners' experiences is that it often demonstrates their hidden musical competence. Studies of encoding and memory reveal musical intelligence in people's recall errors: they tend to substitute a note or chord that serves a similar musical function. This shows that they have subconsciously internalized the rules of musical grammar. Other studies show that the ability to sing in tune can be dramatically improved by simple well-targeted feedback, suggesting that many abilities are already in place but are masked by the absence of one simple cognitive component."
More and more evidence is provided, by research teams in both Europe and North-America, that shows that responses of musically untrained listeners tend to be highly correlated with those of musically trained listeners (including our own Internet study on musical competence and the role of exposure that will be presented next week at the Music and Language conference organized by Tufts University in Boston). These studies suggest that musical competence can be improved (or altered) by mere exposure to music, without the help of explicit training. Listen and learn, indeed.

Sloboda, J. (2008). Science and Music: The ear of the beholder. Nature, 454(7200), 32-33. DOI: 10.1038/454032a