Music Cognition Resource Center

Learning More About Music Cognition

Are you interested in learning more about music cognition? The following reading list is intended to help the curious get started.

The reading list is divided into three levels of difficulty: light reading (indicated in red), medium reading (indicated in blue), and advanced reading (indicated in black).

Light Reading

  • Robert Jourdain. Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination.
    New York: William Morrow and Company, 1997; 333 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-688-14236-2 (hardback).

    This is an easy-to-read book written by a science journalist. The book convers a number of topics, including hearing, melody, scales, harmony, tonality, dissonance, perceptual chunking, rhythm, psychological present, musical savants, prodigies, memory, brain, hemispheric specialization, musical preferences and the evoking of pleasure. Scholars will quibble with many points, but Jourdain's book still manages to convey some important concepts.

Medium Reading

  • John A. Sloboda. The Musical Mind: The Cognitive Psychology of Music.
    Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985; 268 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-19-852114-6 (hardback); ISBN 0-19-852128-6 (paperback).

    A fine general introduction to the field. Sloboda's book contains chapters on music as a cognitive skill, music & language, music performance, composition & improvisation, listening to music, learning & development, and culture & biology. The principal drawback to this book is that a great deal of further research has been done since it was published in 1985.

  • Bob Snyder. Music and Memory: An Introduction.
    Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000; 243 pages of main text plus glossary of terms.
    ISBN 0-262-19441-4 (hardback). ISBN 0-262-69237-6 (paperback).

    This is a well-written book by a composition teacher. The book provides an excellent review of research about human memory and then shows how the structure of auditory memory illuminates many aspects of musical organization. The second half of the book is somewhat speculative, but the first half is informative and up-to-date.

  • David J. Hargreaves. The Developmental Psychology of Music.
    Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986; 227 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-521-30665-5 (hardback); ISBN 0-521-31415-1 (paperback).

    This book provides a helpful summary of music-related research from infancy to adolescence. A strength of this book is the discussion about the formation of musical tastes. Like the Sloboda book, a great volume of research been done since this book was published in 1986.

  • W. Jay Dowling and Dane L. Harwood. Music Cognition.
    San Diego: Academic Press, 1986; 239 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-12-221430-7 (hardback only)

    This book is oriented toward more perceptual topics than the Sloboda book. Chapters pertain to the perception of sound, consonance & dissonance, musical scales, melodic organization, musical attention & memory, rhythm, emotion & meaning, and cultural aspects of music. Dowling and Harwood's book is more technical than Sloboda, but shorter.

  • Robert Francès. The Perception of Music.
    Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1988; 352 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-89859-688-2 (hardback).

    Francès originally published this book in 1958. It was translated into English by Jay Dowling. Although this book is old, it is delightful -- full of originality and insight. It describes a number of unique experiments carried out by Francès. There are chapters on music syntax, the sense of tonality, musical rhetoric & discourse, melodic perception, harmonic perception, aesthetics, music signification & symbolism While much of Francès' work has been superceded by later research, many of his experiments have yet to be followed-up by modern researchers.

Advanced Reading

  • Diana Deutsch (editor). The Psychology of Music.
    Second edition. San Diego: Academic Press, 1999; 791 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-12-213564-4 (hardback) ISBN 0-12-213565-2 (paperback)

    This book contains 18 review articles on basic topic written by experts in the field. Chapters include The Nature of Musical Sound (John Pierce), Concert Halls (Manfred Schroeder), Music and the Auditory System (Norman Weinberger), Perception of Musical Tones (Rudolf Rasch & Reinier Plomp), Timbre (Jean-Claude Risset & David Wessel), Perception of Singing (Johan Sundberg), Intervals, Scales, and Tuning (Ed Burns), Absolute Pitch (Dixon Ward), Grouping Mechanisms (Diana Deutsch), Processing of Pitch Combinations (Diana Deutsch), Neural Networks and Tonality (Jamshed Bharucha), Hierarchy, Expectation and Style (Eugene Narmour), Rhythm (Eric Clarke), Music Performance (Alf Gabrielsson), Musical Development (Jay Dowling), Musical Ability (Rosamund Shuter-Dyson), Neurological Aspects of Music (Oscar Marin & David Perry), Cross-cultural Music Perception and Cognition (Edward Carterette & Roger Kendall).

    Although this collection represents a major resource in the field, several articles are not up-to-date (even as of 1999). In addition, several important topics are not covered or are covered in a cursory fashion -- notably auditory/musical expectation, large-scale form, and emotion .

  • Carol Krumhansl. Cognitive Foundations of Musical Pitch.
    Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990; 288 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-19-505475-X (hardback).

    This book conveys the results of Krumhansl's seminal studies of pitch-related perceptual organization. The book principally addresses questions related to the perception of key. How is key perceptually established? When a modulation occurs, how quickly does a sense of the new key develop? Is a sense of the initial key maintained after the modulation? Can listeners attend to two tonalities simultaneously? Is there a uniquely "atonal" way of perceiving musical passages? Such questions through a number of important perceptual experiments. An online book review is available.

  • Richard Parncutt. Harmony: A Psychoacoustical Approach.
    Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1989; 166 pages of main text.
    ISBN 0-387-51279-9 (hardback only).

    This book is quite technical but provides a stimulating theory of harmony. The theory essentially extends and embellishes research by the reknowned psychoacoustician, Ernst Terhardt. Although the book describes how physiological aspects of hearing influence the perception of pitch and harmony, the theory essentially regards pitch and harmony as learned phenomena that arise from exposure to typical complex tones in the environment. An online book review is available.

  • David Huron. Tone and Voice: A Derivation of the Rules of Voice-leading from Perceptual Principles.
    Music Perception, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 1-64, 2001.

    This article provides a detailed technical explanation of the origins of the traditional rules of voice-leading. The article identifies why many composers have organized their part-writing according to established practices, and also accounts for many of the deviations from these practices. Explanations are offered as to why unisons should be avoided, why part-crossing sounds "bad", why chords are spaced the way they are, why consecutive fifths and octaves can be problematic, and why composers avoid exposed octaves. The complete text is available online.

  • Further advanced readings pertaining to music cognition can be found in the principal scholarly journals of the field.

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