Interview – Project: How Musical Are You?

Jason Jirí Musil studied Psychology at University College London, becoming something of a troubleshooter (and long term hanger-on) in the action and body laboratory of Prof Patrick Haggard at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. His passion for music has led him to the Music, Mind and Brain MSc course at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he has recently been awarded a PhD studentship under the supervision of Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen to develop a broad-spectrum self-report measure of musicality.

Jason plays classical guitar in a number of London bands and loves Jazz, Czech pub rock, motorbikes and diving. He is trying to learn the 5-string banjo. Email:

1.) When and how did you first find out about music psychology?

At a dinner celebrating one of Prof Haggard’s international collaborative grants! I was droning on about my desire to integrate music and research, when somebody mentioned Lauren Stewart’s name (Lauren is one director of the Music, Mind and Brain MSc course at Goldsmiths). That same week I put in a last-minute application and had an interview shortly afterwards. Up until then I had no idea of where to start as a cognitive neuroscientist with an interest in music.

2.) What led you to want to study music psychology?

At school in south-west London I was immersed in music and our area was full of fantastic jazzmen and session musicians. After that, my undergraduate years in central London felt starved of music. When I graduated, I had a fantastic background in modern psychology and neuroscience research but also a big old hole where the music used to be. Filling that hole is what it is all about for me at the moment, but in the future I would love to try and channel some of this cutting edge stuff back to my spiritual homeland in the Czech Republic.

3.) What is the name of the current project you are working on? How did it come about?

I am working to develop the Goldsmiths Musical Sophistication Index (Gold-MSI). The project was instigated by Drs Daniel Müllensiefen, Lauren Stewart and Bruno Gingras in response to a need in the music research community for a sensible way of measuring various aspects of musicality. Whilst personality, health and occupational psychologists have an arsenal of sophisticated questionnaires, music researchers often have to rely on asking participants how many years of music lessons they have had. Perhaps a lot of interesting findings have been missed out by not accounting for other ways in which people engage with music.

4.) How can the public get involved with this project?

Everybody is invited to take our online test here:  

It really does not matter whether or not you consider yourself to be musical. We encourage musicians, non-musicians and everyone inbetween to help us build up a picture of the musical traits hidden within people and to figure out how best to measure them. You can share the link with anybody who may be interested, we have even slapped on a prize draw for £100 to sweeten the deal!

5.) What would someone learn by taking part in the project?

We give some interesting feedback at the end of the test based on some factors that have been identified from previous responses to the questionnaire and also on your responses to a couple of fun musical ‘puzzle’ tasks. If you have ever taken an online personality test for fun (go on… we all have) then you will love this! For me, the real gold is in the kind of personal questions about one’s engagement with music that are prompted by taking the test, so you will learn something about yourself.

6.) How will you use the results of the study?

I will analyse responses with an approach derived from Item Response Theory (IRT). IRT accounts for the fact that two very different people may be at the same level on a given musical trait, yet respond differently to a given question item that measures this trait. We will be able to say how the questionnaire behaves differently when measuring traits in different groups of people or across different cultures. If there are more distinct kinds of musical people than the traditional ‘musician’ and ‘non-musician’, then this analysis will help us to identify them. I should also be able to say something about how online testing compares to, say, traditional testing in the laboratory. It really is a big project!

7.) What are you hoping to find?

Looking at the last few decades of research, it is likely that all people possess the required apparatus to understand music from early life (Schellenberg & Trehub, 1996), that a lot of learning occurs implicitly through listening (Saffran et al., 1999) and that people may have a tendency to under-estimate their musical abilities (Cuddy et al., 2005). With this in mind, I am hoping to find out that we can detect and measure many kinds of sophisticated human relationships with music.

8.) What do you think might be a future, exciting challenge for music psychology that stems from your project?

For other researchers the task will be to keep their paradigms but change pre-testing to the Gold-MSI. I think that there will be some exciting findings, especially in studies of brain plasticity and music. For example, a more fine-grained breakdown of Petr Janata’s finding that musicians’ brains have a different electrophysiological response to unexpected chords might have something to say about people who listen to music intensively but have never played a note in their life.

9.) What music do you like to listen to in your spare time?

 I love jazz (especially Pat Metheny) and anything where melody, harmony and groove take pride of place. Unfortunately for everybody else, my definition also includes bluegrass, pop punk, video game music and Czech pub rock.


10.) Do you have any advice for future, budding music psychologists?

Some people wrongly assume that musical brain behaviour is just a subclass of general brain behaviour. Music does amazing things to the brain, and brains create amazing music in turn. If your course offers a module in Music Psychology, take it. Try and find somebody in the music research community willing to supervise your project and remember that you will be taken seriously. Even undergraduate projects contribute enormously to this growing field and prospective students are often treated like future colleagues. Music psychologists will always be delighted that you have an interest in the field.


Cuddy, L. L., Balkwill, L., Peretz, I., & Holden, R. R. (2005). Musical difficulties are rare: A study of “tone deafness” among university students. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1060, 311-317.

 Saffran, J. R., Johnson, E. K., Aslin, R. N., & Newport, E. L. (1999). Statistical learning of tone sequences by human infants and adults. Cognition, 70, 27-52.

 Schellenberg, E. G., & Trehub, S. E. (1996). Natural musical intervals: Evidence from infant listeners. Psychological Science, 7, 272-277.

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