Music Psychology,  Websites of interest

Preparing for a music psychology course

I have been getting some nice emails of late from people who are considering a music psychology postgraduate degree, and who want to know how best to prepare for such a course. So today I am going to lay out a few pieces of general advice for postgraduate students thinking about taking up music psychology.

The first important point to make is that each course is different. I work at the University of Sheffield which boasts 3 courses in music psychology that focus on the science of understanding how music affects the brain and body (with 1 focusing specifically on education and 1 designed specially for musicians). The advice I give below is aimed at our courses- I think they are the best, but then I am biased 😉

If you are thinking to apply for another UK course, such as Goldsmiths or Roehampton, or any other course in the World, then please take this advice as rough only and contact the course directors directly to get exact guidance.


Course component: Music theory

Level needed: A music psychology masters course will not typically include any lectures on music theory. Many of the lecturers will present music stimuli (western music notation), so it would be advantageous to be able to read music. There are also likely to be references to constructs within music theory, such as scale structure, tonality and names for music notation. This amounts to fairly basic music theory but knowledge of this before you start is important.

music heartAdvice: A passion for music is the key. So if you are just a very enthusiastic music listener but have not had a music lesson outside school then don’t panic! You can teach yourself about music notation and structure before you begin the course using any number of music theory guides.

The two books I used as a music teacher are here and here. It might also be worth finding a good local music teacher and asking if they can give you a few lessons on music theory just so you can begin your course with a good basic ability to read music and a lexicon of music terms at your fingertips.


Course component: Psychology

Level needed: Applicants for our course are expected to be familiar with the concepts of empirical research. This amounts to knowledge of how research psychologists investigate questions how our minds and behaviour operate. So ask yourself the following questions: What is an experiment? What constitutes a ‘research question’? What is a hypothesis? How do you design an experiment? What types of ethical guidelines must you consider? What is the difference between quantitative and qualitative research? If you have a good idea how to answer these types of questions then you are likely to have good enough background knowledge of psychology theory.

psychologyAdvice: If the above questions are mostly new to you then you need to think about a little extra training before beginning your course. From my personal point of view I do not recommend trying to do this from a book alone, although there are very good books out there.

I would recommend taking a short course (n.b. not a whole degree!) in basic experimental psychology. This will give you the best chance of understanding the papers you will read from Day 1 of your course, and put you in the best position to design your own piece of research for your dissertation.  Your local University might do a short course on psychology for graduates as a reasonable fee. You might also consider a correspondence based introduction course, such as the Open University.


Course component: Statistics….don’t be scared it is not that bad!

Level needed:  All courses should contain a module where you will be taught statistics. You need statistical knowledge to be able to read music psychology literature and to do your own piece of research. This doesn’t need advanced maths! The number crunching nowadays is almost exclusively done on computers. Statistics for social scientists is about knowing what kinds of tests to employ to find out if the results from your research are significant.

Mechanical-CalculatorAdvice: Having said this, I know from the experiences of my hard working students that it can be difficult to keep up with the statistics teaching if you have no background in the subject at all. So I would recommend the following books. In particular the introduction to the Field (2009) book will give you a great background on why we use statistics in psychology.


Field, A. & Hole, G. (2007). How to design and report experiments. Sage.

Field, A. (2009). Discovering statistics using SPSS (3rd ed.). Sage.


Reading the books listed on the course website is great preparation. Applicants for our course are expected to be familiar with at least some of the music cognition literature. Here are some suggestions to get your started:

Williamson, V.J. (2014) You Are The Music. – yep, my book! Sorry, could not resist, but I really think it is a helpful introduction to many music psychology topics

Thompson, W.F. (2008). Music, Thought, and Feeling. Understanding The Psychology of Music.

Lehmann, A.C., Sloboda, J.A., & Woody, R.H. (2007). Psychology for Musicians. Understanding and Acquiring the Skills.

Donald Hodges & David Conrad Sebald (2011). Music in the Human Experience: An Introduction to Music Psychology.

Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher and Rom Harr (2010) Psychology of Music: From Sound to Signficance. You can read a free sample here


Conferences are a great way to learn about the type of research that is out there and the latest findings. And you don’t have to currently be at University to go – anyone can go! Sometimes they can be a bit pricey but there are also free events now and again, so keep an eye out. I have a conference page which I update regularly with news about relevant conferences. Do drop me a line if you find any that I have missed!


  • Diana Hereld

    Dear Vicky,

    Thanks for this 🙂 I’m so glad you’re being nicely pestered about such a great programme. As usual, incredibly helpful (and most importantly) encouraging. Many thanks!

  • Alya

    Thank you so much for this! 🙂 I’m a high school student and I’ve done ABRSM piano as well as enough guitar lessons to understand what I’m doing when it comes to simple music. I also love psychology and I’m hoping to take such a course when I graduate from high school.
    Once again thank you and God bless you

  • vicky

    Thanks Alya I appreciate the kind words and wish you all the best for your future career
    All the best,

  • Shruti trehan

    Thanks vicky…
    I am doing M.Tech in neuroscience and cognitive science.But unfortunately i have never gone through music lessons.But i trust music as a therapy and am also working on a project about it.Can you pls suggest me,how i can approach for the PhD in such a programme or some other course is available in ‘music and brain’..thnks again 🙂

  • vicky

    When applying for PhDs it is all about making contact with particular academics who would be suitable supervisors for your work. Since you have done a project you could use this as a way to think of people who you may like to work with (the academics you find yourself citing a lot) and perhaps offer an extension to this work as a suitable topic for a PhD? Of course check out the facilities of the universities that you plan to approach to check that they have everything you need. It is no fun chasing after favours from other institutions; best to go somewhere that has a expert who can guide you through 3 years of research that combines your interests and that has the kit you need to make your plans a reality. All the best, Vicky

  • Eimear

    Hi Vicky,

    Thanks so much for running this website, it is by far the most useful resource I have come across in my research so far! Do you think a ‘Discovering Psychology’ module in the Open University would provide enough background in basic experimental psychology or should it be a more advanced course than that? I’m currently in the final year of my BMus degree and am looking to spend the next year gaining teaching and performing experience along with the necessary skills to apply to a Music Psychology course.

    Kind regards,

  • vicky

    Hi Elimear
    Thanks for your kind words, which are very much appreciated. I don’t know the OU course so it is really hard for me to know if it would be enough. My best advice is to contact the course leaders for the music psychology courses to which you think you would to apply at the end of your gap year. Ask the course leaders which courses are the best preparation. Some universities may do a special summer or short course that you can take, or modules from their own psychology courses. Most will certainly be able to recommend something suitable in terms of preparation. I wish you all the best for the future. Vicky

  • Caroline Edwards

    Hi Vicky
    I am currently studying for an Honours degree in Music with The Open University, however, I have become increasingly interested in the field of Music Psychology: I am therefore diverting my focus with effect from October 2013 and wondered if you could offer me some advice on the study route I should take?

    Post MA I am considering working towards a PhD relating to music and its effects on the autistic mind. However, I am struggling to work out the modules I should take within the OU and then how to move forward to covering this field more extensively. This is a long term goal for me; I am in my mid forties and do not envisage graduating until Summer 2016. I appreciate the length of time the study will take, however it will be worth it for me as I plan to switch careers on the completion of my Masters from being a Management Consultant in Business to working in the field of Psychology.

    I have contacted the BPS on this matter, but so far they have only stated that, on graduation, I should apply to them for special dispensation (through the OU) to be accepted as a member of the Society: they are unable to provide any guidance on the field of Music Psychology.

    I fully appreciate how busy you must be, however if you are able to spare any time at all to help me I would be very grateful.

  • JK

    Hi Vicky

    It’s really good to know about this course. I’m so interested in it!
    I am currently studying a bachelors of arts, majoring in music studies and minoring in psychology.
    However, I’m wondering if having an honours is a must for entry.

    Appreciate your reply very much.

  • Jones Valentine

    Thanks a lot Vicky but………………..
    Erm I live in Ghana and I am quite passionate abt wanting to know how music affects human action.I have a few questions.
    1. Is this the right program I should pursue?
    2. if yes, then what schools offer this course and how can I apply?
    3. I have a degree in sociology with very little background on research, statistics ,music theory and social psychology. Is that enough to pursue this course? and when I say very little I mean very little.

  • vicky

    Hi there
    Please scroll down and read through the previous comments on this page ( and you will see lots of answers to your questions. You will also see that I never presume to offer personal advice to people about choosing courses as it is your precious life to make decisions about, not mine. I wish you the best for your future.
    All the best,

  • Ashley Kindrat

    Hello Dr. Williamson,

    I would just like to say that this website is amazing and the content is just fantastic.
    I am currently a final year undergrad studying psychology and wanted to know what work experience would be beneficial for me to undertake as I am planning on pursuing a career in music psychology as I am passionate about music.

    Kind Regards,
    Ashley Kindrat

  • vicky

    Hi Ashely, thank you for the kind words 🙂 You might consider doing your final year dissertation on a music pscyhology research question. That is how I started! I did a little study on the effects of music on computer game performance – and never looked back. Are you considering postgrad study in music psychology, such as a master course (like the lovely one we run at Sheffield?!) If so, there will be lots of oppotunities for lab work and research on the course and you can get to know the lecturers well, and perhaps do some side projects with them. That was how I picked up my first publication. I wish you all the best for your future studies and career. Vicky

  • Ashley Kindrat

    Hello Dr. Williamson,

    I have already developed my final year dissertation (psychology research project) where I am investigating the effects of pre-selected music and preferred music on pre-test anxiety levels. I have considered postgraduate study and have slowly been identifying what I want to do as a career. It was at the Psychology4Graduates conference in London last month that made me realise what I want to do in my life.

    Kind Regards,
    Ashley Kindrat

  • vicky

    Hi Ashley. That sounds interesting, all the best with your project. I arrived in music psychology through the same route (my final year psychology dissertation). If you have the passion for knowledge and understanding music and the mind then I encourage you to pursue your dreams as far as possible! THere are lots of options out there so ask questions and find the best pathway for you. All the best, Vicky

  • Elsie

    Hi Vicky,

    I am interested in music psychology and cognitive neuroscience. I’m French and is currently doing a year off to improve my English level in England. I’m now applying for university, but I’m not sure what courses to go for. Mainly they’re between combined courses (music and psychology, or psychology and neuroscience) my French agent get lost in my wish, he doesn’t understand if that’s possible or not. However, in order to be sure, if I’m interested and improve my personal statement I’m looking for a conference somewhere in England about it. Do you know any?

    Thank you for your website, I still like it 2 years after.