For many of us, music is a powerful companion through life in the best and worst of times, and in everything in between. Why is this so? Music Cognition seeks to answer this question by exploring the mental processes underlying musical behaviors and how emotion, environment, cognitive capacity, personality, individual differences, and other factors influence how we perceive music. This understanding will bring new insight to music professionals, songwriters, and to music lovers who want to increase their knowledge of, and appreciation for, both music and the brain.
The course begins with the scientific method important for understanding what research has to say about music and the brain. It explores the nature of mental activities, and the brain and the neural architecture supporting thoughts and emotions. It then delves into how we perceive pitch, rhythm, tonality, and timbre, including distinctions between people who have perfect pitch and those who do not, how our perception of rhythm gives rise to musical expectancies, and how certain cognitive factors promote the development of musical systems.
The course examines human development with regard to how and when musical behaviors emerge and what methods improve musical practice. It takes a close look at musicians' brains and how they process audio signals differently from non-musicians. It also explores arguments for and against the notion that music-making is an evolutionary adaptation in humans. The course then looks at emotion, memory, and personality, including the link between emotional responses and the acoustic cues in musical signals, strategies the brain uses for memorizing thousands of songs, the role music plays in preserving memories, and the significant ties between personality traits and musical preferences.
Music cognition is a fascinating, growing branch of experimental psychology: One that is shaping not only neuroscience and child development but many areas of the music industry, from music theory, music therapy, and music education to music performance and music production and engineering. Music Cognition students will come away from this course with a deeper understanding of the complexities of the human brain with regard to music, in addition to developing their critical thinking skills and ability to evaluate scientific findings related to music and the brain.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- Understand the scientific method as applied to experimental psychology
- Understand the organization and mechanics of the central nervous system
- Understand the mechanics of human hearing and the auditory pathway
- Identify the processing stages of sensation, perception, and cognition
- Identify perceptual processes such as pitch, timbre, duration, and auditory grouping
- Define the stages of music acquisition
- Distinguish between innate and acquired differences in musical abilities and in performance effects
- Identify the acoustical correlates of musical expertise
- Evaluate evidence for the evolution of the music faculty as separate from language
- Understand mechanisms of musical emotions
- Understand memory systems and how they process music
- Recognize the links between music preferences and personality
- Understand how musical training in childhood shapes the brain and auditory pathway
Lesson 1: Cognitive Psychology and The Scientific Method
- Cognitive Psychology: What is the Nature of Mental Activity?
- Music Cognition: What is Meant by "Musical Behaviors"?
- The Scientific Method
- Experimental Psychology: Research Methods and Statistical Analysis
Lesson 2: Neurophysiology of Hearing
- The Auditory System as an Information Processor
- The Human Brain
- Neural Activity
- The Hearing Mechanism
- Measuring Neural Activity in Humans: EEG, ERP, MEG, MRI, fMRI, GSR
Lesson 3: Pitch Perception
- Physical and Psychological Correlates of Pitch
- Theories of Pitch Perception
- Neurophysiology of Pitch Perception
- Absolute Pitch and Amusia
Lesson 4: Auditory Scene Analysis and Rhythm Perception
- Object Perception: The Gestalt Principles of Organization
- Auditory Scene Analysis
- Rhythm Perception and the Internal Clock
- Rhythm Preferences
Lesson 5: Tonality and Timbre Perception
- Implicit Learning and Cognitive Constraints
- Tonality: Foundational Work
- Innate Concepts of Tonality
- The Effect of Spectrum on Timbre
- Psychological Correlates of Timbre
Lesson 6: Musical Development
- Music and Language Development
- Testing Infants: Some Experimental Findings
- Lullabies and Playsongs
- Experimental Methods
Lesson 7: Musical Expertise and Performance
- Musical Performance
- Acoustic Correlates of Expressivity
- Musical Errors and Learning
- Musical Practice
Lesson 8: Music and Evolution
- Evolutionary Adaptations
- Advantages of Music
- Music and Language
- A Music Module * Williams Syndrome
Lesson 9: Music and Emotion
- The Study of Music and Emotion
- Emotional vs. Non-Emotional Music
- Musical Emotions and Physiology
Lesson 10: Music and Memory
- What is Memory?
- Types of Memory Processes
- Memory for Music
- Mental Imagery
- Neural Activity and Musical Memory
- Long- and Short-Term Musical Memory
- STM for Musical Intervals
Lesson 11: Music and Personality
- Communicating Through Music Preferences
- Music Preference Dimensions
- Music Preferences and Personality
Lesson 12: Individual Differences and Outstanding Questions
- The Brain of Musicians
- Morphological Differences
- Differences in Children
- Cognitive Differences
- Outstanding Questions and Challenges
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Completion of Introduction to College Writing or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.
Music, Thought, and Feeling: Understanding the Psychology of Music by William Forde Thompson, Oxford University Press
After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in live chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software (available in the course when joining your first chat)
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal Microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Susan Rogers holds a Doctorate in Psychology from McGill University (2010), where she studied music cognition and psychoacoustics under researchers Daniel Levitin and Stephen McAdams. Her research focuses on auditory memory, the perception of musical signals, and the influence of musical training on auditory development. For two decades prior to her science career, Susan was one of the world's few women known for her work as a record producer, engineer, mixer, and audio electronics technician. Career highlights include five years (1983-1987) as staff engineer for Prince, producing hit singles for diverse artists such as Barenaked Ladies, David Byrne, Robben Ford, Jeff Black, and Rusted Root, mixing hit singles for an equally eclectic list including Tricky, Michael Penn, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Tevin Campbell, and engineering for a host more.
Susan is a professor at Berklee College of Music in the departments of Music Production & Engineering and Liberal Arts, and is the director of the Berklee Music Perception and Cognition Laboratory. In 2012, she was awarded the Distinguished Faculty Award, Professional Writing and Music Technology Division.
In tandem with business partner and former student Matthew McArthur (Berklee '10), Susan launched Boston's first not-for-profit recording studio, The Record Company, to offer low-cost recording facilities to area musicians and free music technology instruction to area teens. Read Less
Author & InstructorBradley Vines has 10 years of academic research experience focusing on the psychology and neuroscience of music, including PhD research at McGill University and postdoctoral work at Harvard and the University of California. For the past 5 years, he has been working in the field of consumer neuroscience as Director of Neuroscience at Nielsen, with a focus on the contribution of music to advertising and branding. Bradley also holds an MBA from the University of Oxford and is a saxophonist.
When taken for credit, Music Cognition can be applied towards these associated programs: