Music Cognition


Authored by Susan Rogers


Course Code: OLSOC-307

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


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.

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Music Cognition begins with the scientific method, which is 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. Music Cognition 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
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Lesson 1: Cognitive Psychology and the Neuroscience of Hearing

  • Cognitive Psychology: What Is the Nature of Mental Activity?
  • Music Cognition: What Is Meant by Musical Behaviors?
  • Processing Stages
  • Experimental Psychology: Research Methods
  • The Human Brain
  • The Auditory Pathway
  • Neural Activity
  • The Hearing Mechanism
  • The Cochlea and How Hearing Works
  • Hair Cells
  • Measuring Neural Activity in Humans
  • Electroencephalograms (EEG) and Event-Related Potentials (ERP)
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)
  • Assignment 1: Separating Sense from Nonsense

Lesson 2: Perception, Part I

  • Physical Correlates of Pitch
  • Physics of Sound Waves
  • Harmonics, Partials, and the Fundamental Frequency
  • Theories of Pitch Perception
  • Virtual Pitch Perception
  • Absolute Pitch and Amusia
  • Tonality Perception
  • Foundational Work
  • Innate Concepts of Tonality
  • Timbre Perception
  • Psychological Correlates of Timbre
  • Link between Pitch and Timbre
  • Assignment 2: Interpreting a Result Figure

Lesson 3: Perception, Part II

  • Object Perception: The Gestalt Principles of Organization
  • The Gestalt Psychologists
  • Gestalt Principles Important to Audio Grouping
  • Auditory Scene Analysis
  • The Listening Context: Fission
  • The Listening Context Examples
  • Rhythm Perception and the Internal Clock
  • Internal Rhythms
  • Rhythm Perception and Neural Oscillation
  • Rhythm Preferences
  • Regular vs. Irregular Patterns
  • Neural Connections for Beat Perception
  • Assignment 3: Skimming a Research Paper

Lesson 4: Musical Development, Talent, and Creativity

  • Music and Language
  • When Speech Becomes Music
  • Speech Acquisition
  • Parallels and Differences between Music and Language
  • Testing Infants
  • Musical Constraints
  • Order of Acquisition of Musical Behaviors
  • Infant- and Child-Directed Songs
  • Learning Emotion in Music
  • Musical Talent Creativity
  • Creativity in the Brain
  • Assignment 4: Follow-up Research

Lesson 5: Performance Expertise, Improvisation, and Anxiety

  • Musical Performance
  • Acoustic Correlates of Expressivity
  • Performers’ Signatures
  • Musical Errors and Learning
  • Transfer of Learning
  • Musical Practice
  • Musical Improvisation
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Coping Strategies and Treatments
  • Assignment 5: What Do We Mean By “Good” Improvisation?

Lesson 6: Evolution and Cross-Cultural Music Cognition

  • The Evolution of Music
  • Music and Early Social Life
  • Music and Speech
  • More Commonalities in Music and Language
  • Cross-Cultural Musical Behaviors
  • Intonation Perception
  • Assignment 6: Research a Language

Lesson 7: Music and Emotion

  • The Study of Music and Emotion
  • What Are Emotions?
  • Emotional vs. Non-Emotional Music
  • Mechanisms of Musical Emotion
  • Musical Emotions and Physiology
  • Why Do We Like Sad Music?
  • Assignment 7: Music and Emotion

Lesson 8: Music and Memory

  • What Is Memory?
  • Localizing Memory
  • Types of Memory Processes
  • Memory for Music
  • Experiments in Music Encoding
  • Valence, Arousal, and Memory Encoding
  • Surface or Deep Structure Memorization?
  • Absolute vs. Relative Musical Memory
  • The Nature of Auditory Working Memory
  • Musical Imagery: Voluntary and Involuntary
  • Involuntary Musical Imagery: Earworms
  • Assignment 8: Music and Memory

Lesson 9: Individual Differences and Music Preferences

  • Developing the Musician’s Brain
  • Biological Markers of Musicianship
  • The Musician’s Brain
  • Synesthesia
  • Music Preferences and Personality
  • Measuring Personality
  • Correlations between Personality and Music Preferences
  • Musicians’ Personalities and Career Choices
  • Assignment 9: Propose a Research Experiment

Lesson 10: Music Marketing and Branding

  • Background Music
  • The Work of North and Hargreaves
  • Sonic Branding
  • Celebrity Endorsements
  • Multi-Sensory Integration
  • Sonic Seasoning
  • Coffee and Music
  • Ad Music and Cognition
  • Music’s Impact on Moral Choices
  • Assignment 10: Best Jingles of All Time

Lesson 11: Music Therapeutics and Intervention

  • Music Therapy for Neurological Disorders
  • Stroke Recovery
  • Melodic Intonation Therapy
  • Music for Well-Being
  • Pre-Term Infants
  • Cancer Treatment
  • Sports Performance
  • Music in Communities
  • Classrooms
  • Work Songs
  • Assignment 11: Music Therapy Interventions

Lesson 12: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

  • Machine Learning as a Creative Tool
  • Musical Metacreation (MuMe)
  • Performing Robots
  • New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME)
  • Ubiquitous Music
  • Assignment 12: Research and Summarize Findings


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion College Writing or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.



Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. 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. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Susan Rogers


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.

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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

Bradley Vines


Bradley 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.


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