Thursday, March 28, 2019

Interested in rhythm and synchrony?

Preliminary announcement:

From 29 July 2019 through 2 August 2019 a workshop entitled Synchrony and Rhythmic Interaction: From Neurons to Ecology will be organized at the Lorentz Center, NL. It will bring together, for the first time, scholars from several disciplines aiming to exchange insights on synchrony and rhythmic interaction, from the neural level to ecology.

See for more information the Lorentz Center website.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Interested in the biology of musicality?

This June in Amsterdam, leading experts from diverse fields meet to explore how advances in genomics can give insights into the biology of musicality. The KNAW Colloquium is preceded by a Masterclass (June 19), now open for applications. Spread the word!

Young researchers, PhD-students, and master students in the fields of music cognition, psychology, and genetics are cordially invited to join our Master Class on 'Musicality and Genomics': See

What makes music special to us?

We are all born with a predisposition for music, a predisposition that develops spontaneously and is refined by listening to music. Nearly everyone possesses the musical skills essential to experiencing and appreciating music. Think of “relative pitch,”recognizing a melody separately from the exact pitch or tempo at which it is sung, and “beat perception,”hearing regularity in a varying rhythm. Even human newborns turn out to be sensitive to intonation or melody, rhythm, and the dynamics of the noise in their surroundings. Everything suggests that human biology is already primed for music at birth with respect to both the perception and enjoyment of listening.

Human musicality is clearly special. Musicality being a set of natural, spontaneously developing traits based on, or constrained by, our cognitive abilities (attention, memory, expectation) and our biological predisposition. But what makes it special? Is it because we appear to be the only animals with such a vast musical repertoire? Is our musical predisposition unique, like our linguistic ability? Or is musicality something with a long evolutionary history that we share with other animals?

Read the full article in Nautilus Magazine of March 14, 2019.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

A look behind the scenes?

[Fragment from Q&A on The Evolving Animal Orchestra by science journalist Rachel Becker of The Verge]

"In June 2014, music cognition professor Henkjan Honing witnessed a strange sight: a sea lion named Ronan headbanging to a beat. When the beat sped up or slowed down, so did the bops of Ronan’s head. And when “Boogie Wonderland” by Earth, Wind & Fire started playing over the speakers, Ronan kept perfect time.

Moving with a beat may sound trivial to us humans. But Ronan’s rhythm, first published by researchers at the University of Santa Cruz in 2013, is a major clue in the quest to understand why we have music, and how it became such an important cornerstone of human culture. That’s the quest Honing, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, sets for himself in his new book, The Evolving Animal Orchestra, translated by Sherry Macdonald and published this week by MIT Press. 

The book follows Honing around the world — from Mexico, to Japan, to Santa Cruz, and back to the Netherlands. He meets animals with rhythm, and a man with none. Throughout, he grapples with the central question: why can humans perceive and appreciate music — and can other animals do it, too?" 

Read the full interview here.

Monday, March 04, 2019

What is playing music for rhesus monkeys teaching us about our own brains?

Adapted from "The Evolving Animal Orchestra: In Search of What Makes Us Musical", by Dr. Henkjan Honing, translated by Sherry Macdonald, The MIT PRESS, 2019.
Fragment from publication in from 4 March 2019:

"As a music cognition researcher interested in whether primates conceive of music, I was curious to understand more about the significance of sound for rhesus macaques in their natural habitat. Although they are confronted with sounds on a daily basis in the laboratory, it struck me as important to examine the role of sound and musicality in their life in the wild. Not all primate researchers agree, but it appears that, generally speaking, most Old World primates show little interest in sound, let alone music. Of all their senses, seeing and smelling have much more important functions. Numerous studies of rhesus macaques indicate that their limited repertoire of noises serves mainly to signal either a threatening or a submissive stance. The noises they make play a significant role in determining and maintaining hierarchy in the group. Stare straight into the eyes of a rhesus macaque, as I did with Capi, and it will instantly feel threatened. The animal will grimace, bare its teeth, and start growling. The emotions of rhesus macaques can be read easily from their faces (by humans and rhesus macaques, that is), and their vocalizations add little to this picture."

For the complete article, see publication in

Friday, March 01, 2019

Interested in doing a Master in Amsterdam?

Application deadline for our one-year English-language MA programme in music studies is extended. You can apply until Sunday 3 March 2019 23:59 hours CET. Check it out now at and spread the word!

N.B. For Dutch/EU students the deadline is 15 May.