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


  1. Thank for letting us know that ability to sing in tune can easily be improved only through listen and learn techniques, coz most of the musical abilities we posses in ourselves but they are masked with various factors. Lots of music exposure, and with bit awareness of music terms, one can surly become a good singer. He or she doesn't required some extraordinary talent for this.
    Really a great news for all the music lovers.

  2. Hi there,

    I'm really interested in reading the Science and Music essay series but I can't find the downloads on the Nature site anymore.. they seem to have been removed and you have to pay for them now.
    You don't happen to have a copy you could send me?

    thanks a bunch


  3. The Nature essay series on Science and Music are available here.

  4. Great post. Thanks for sharing the link.