ICMPC Day Three – Musicality measures

The last thing I did on the Wednesday was to attend a talk on the development of a new test for measuring musicality. Why is this necessary?

There is a growing issue in the literature in terms of how musicians and nonmusicians are defined. Typically the only measure that is the amount of formal musical training an individual has received in their life, measured in years. In the past this measure, even though not consistently applied across papers, has  successfully revealed replicable differences in behaviour and brain structure between ‘musicians’ and ‘nonmusicians’; but something is still missing.

Such a dichotomous definition of musicianship does not take into account a person’s current level of musical practice, their level of musical knowledge, their musical engagement, their music listening habits and so on. A new scale developed by a PhD student at Monash University is a step towards a new more broad definition of musicality that takes such measures into account.

Tan Chyuan Chin is working with Nikki Rickard. During the talk Tan introduced the MUSE (Music USE) questionnaire, an online self-report measure of active music engagement that she has developed, which contains three dimensions of musicality. The first two dimensions (music training and instrumental use indices) relate to traditional musicianship, but apparently aim to capture this construct via a broader range of measures than years of formal music training. These include current practice and number of instruments played. The final dimension relates to other forms of music engagement that she claims are independent of traditional musicianship. I wouldn’t have thought of these measures as completely orthogonal myself, but the importance of including such a dimension is undeniable. This final dimension was the point of interest for the rest of the talk, and what followed was a description of how this subscale has been developed.

Tan began by assessing the importance of different types of musical engagement and musical practice via a 124-items questionnaire, which included questions relating to the frequency and value of a range of music activities. Analyses of an initial sample of 210 individuals (mean age = 37.55 years, SD = 11.31) showed high alpha coefficients (> .74) on eight factors after varimax rotation; Personal Inspiration; Engaged Production; Dance; Physical exercise/health; Social listening; Reminiscence; Active music listening and Cognitive and emotional regulation. She showed some sex differences within these factors, with females scoring higher on Dance, Physical Health and Reminiscence – indicating the scale already replicates some interesting differences across population dimensions.

Further factor analysis of the data established a 58-item scale for the MUSE, a test that takes around 10 minutes to administer and which includes 50 items on the final factor of musical engagement. Tan has also been working on the development of a ‘brief MUSE’ which contains the 10 highest loading items from the main factor analysis. It will be interesting to see how both these scales develop in the future and whether they show uptake in the general literature. Irrespective of the method by which such a scale finally comes to the literature, it is good to see that definitions of musicality are finally evolving to represent the full spectrum of musical engagement seen in the modern world.


  • Keith Evans

    Vicky, firstly thanks for all the very hard work you’ve put in writing up this conference – much appreciated.

    I found this thread very interesting. As someone who’s played the guitar on and off for too many years to remember exactly but without ever having more than a year’s worth of formal lessons (in classical, after years of being a folk-rock strummer), I obviously fall into the non-musicians category, given the strict formal definition. I still play regularly – most days in fact – and have done a performance or two, so have a reasonable level of technique (of the Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, David Gray and Justin Currie styles at least !).

    At the same time, I have over 4 years over formal piano training, but am not much better than I was when I started (inconsistency in lessons and practiceat least partly to blame).

    What would be fascinating to know (for me at least) is whether in someone like me there are similar or different behavioural / brain structures to musicians and non-muscians etc. There must be countless ‘non-musicians’ out there with a much higher level of musicality than many ‘musicians’, in the formal definitional sense – so anything that seeks to balance that dichotomy must be a good thing.

  • Elisa Carrus

    Thanks for writing this up! I missed this session and really wanted to attend, so your ICMPC section on this blog’s been a great resource for that 🙂