Music Psychology

The only limit is imagination!

One of the things I love about being a lecturer in music psychology is working with the fantastically interesting people who choose to take our masters course in music, mind and brain. The nature of the discipline means we get applications from people with lots of different backgrounds; psychologists, musicians, therapists, journalists, teachers, engineers…the list is wonderfully rich and diverse.

One of the consequences of this great mix is that I get to supervise lots of different masters projects. I thought I would give you a flavour of the projects I am overseeing this year, so you can get an idea of what sort of things can go on in music psychology.

This summary is anonymous but in alphabetical order – no preferential ranking is implied!

1)      Music and movement

One of my students is a physiotherapist and wants to investigate the effects of music on movement. He wants to move beyond a traditional finger tapping paradigm and measure a behaviour that is far more relevant to his clinical practice – walking. He intends to look at the effects of music familiarity and liking upon people’s ability to walk to a beat.

2)      Musical ‘shape’

This project is running in collaboration with Dr Helen Prior and Dr Dan Tidhar at Kings College. The student will be testing how many different conceptual ideas of musical shape (including performance dynamics and cultural traditions) influence a person’s ability to entrain (tap) to a beat.

3)      Music and sexiness

This project represents a second collaboration with Kings College, this time with Professor Daniel Leech Wilkinson. Our student will be looking at the question of whether witnessing an expert musical performance can have an effect on how attractive we find a person. It is essentially a test of the sexual selection theory of music evolution.

4)      Musical working memory

This year I have been working with a student whose interests in music and working memory are very similar to my own. She is interested in whether there are similarities to the way that language and music are processed in memory. She is developing updated (and much better!) versions of my old experiments, with the assistance of Professors Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch.

5)      Musical quality

Linn are a company who produce high fidelity studio sound files of music and they are working with one of my students on a project that will determine whether there is an effect of music recording ‘quality’ on peoples’ responses to music and listening choices.

6)      Music for little ones

Jo Jingles provide parent and child music activity classes in the UK, Ireland and Australia. They have been kind enough to allow one of my students into their classes for a few months to observe the lessons and to take some measures of the children’s development using standard behavioural tests and parental report.

7)      Musicians’ memory

I have one ‘team’ project this year, consisting of two students are working together. They are interested in whether musicians show superior memory skills and have designed a large memory battery in order to test various hypotheses about how and why musicians might show improvements to their memory.

8)      Musical memory and perception in the brain

This year will mark my first involvement with a tDCS paradigm, in the form of two projects that I am running with Dr Michel Banissy. The students intend to use the brain stimulation technique in order to determine whether certain brain areas are involved in 1) musical memory processing and 2) pitch perception.

I hope that brief overview gives you an idea of the wealth of projects that are possible when you study music psychology. All the students have been able to follow their personal interests and this always makes for the best projects. I will keep you updated as to their progress as results emerge over the next few months. Should be a fascinating summer! 🙂

One Comment

  • Annonymous

    As far as musical memory goes; as a musician, I find it easier to solo and do counterpoint when my short term memory is able to dump faster than usual. The ability to forget is equally as important as the ability to remember things long term. This is pretty much the reason some musicians are fond of marijuana. They use it to clear out their short term memories so that they don’t just play the same songs, exactly as they remember them, resulting in a lack of creative progress.

    Long term memory is especially useful in roughing out the basic structure of a song (remembering scales and basic theme.) Short term can cause songs to be a little too repetitious.

    I play music by ear, and as a result am able to remember oral instructions much better than I used to. Another result is that it’s more difficult to remember things I’ve read. It’s possible that the opposite applies to musicians who read music. This might be worth looking into.