Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance

Article excerpt

Psychology of Music: From Sound to Significance, by Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher, and Rom Harré. Oxford: Psychology Press, 2010. 368 pp. ISBN 978-1841698687. $70.00

Music psychology is ready for a new generation of textbooks. It has been a quarter of a century since Deutsch (1982), Sloboda (1985), and Dowling and Harwood (1986) staked out the new field, showing how the methods of cognitive psychology could be used to study music. Now music psychology has its own specialist journals, professional meetings, and organizations. Its scope has expanded beyond translating methods developed for studying language comprehension for use in music perception. Music psychology now includes performance, development, neurophysiology, composition, and the diverse functions of music in everyday life. The publication of a new textbook designed for undergraduate courses in music psychology reflects the growing maturity of the field.

Undergraduate textbooks are a benchmark in the development of a new field, as textbooks presume the existence of courses to provide a market. At the same time, they promote the propagation of such courses by making them easier to prepare. Textbooks also play an important role in establishing the boundaries and organization of a field. If music psychology follows the path of other new fields within psychology, for example, cognitive, health, gender, we may expect that the next few years will see an emerging consensus on a canonical organization for textbooks and courses.

Music psychology now seems to be at the point in its development that cognitive psychology was around 1980 when the first undergraduate textbooks were appearing (e.g., Anderson, 1980), 25 years after the seminal publications of the 1950s, 13 years after Neisser's (1967) eponymous "cognitive psychology," and a decade after Lindsay and Norman's (1972) introductory "human information processing" textbook. In music psychology, recent years have seen a growing stream of books laying theoretical and methodological foundations for new subareas of inquiry, summarizing the state of knowledge in more established areas, and informing the educated reading public about the hot issues. A new textbook that builds on all of this recent activity is particularly welcome to these reviewers who will be teaching an undergraduate course in music psychology for the first time next semester. The publication of this timely and well-researched book makes our task much easier.

In their preface, the authors, Siu-Lan Tan, Peter Pfordresher, and Rom Harré, tell us that the inspiration for their book came from their experience of teaching the psychology of music. Their goal, they tell us, is to cover not only the cognitive psychology of music that has been the traditional focus of the field, but also more recent developments in "social, developmental and applied" aspects (p. ix), as well as to integrate the contributions of neuroscience throughout. In the interests of reaching a wide audience, the authors have "kept technical terminology for music and psychology to a minimum" (p. x). Only the chapter on musical structure assumes technical knowledge, both in music and psycholinguistics.

The book is organized in four parts. Part 1: Foundations introduces the reader to acoustics, the physiology of hearing, and the techniques of neuroscience in three chapters. Part 2: The Perception and Cognition of Music provides chapters on the perception of pitch and melody, rhythm and meter, and the analysis of musical structure. Part 3: Development, Learning, and Performance turns to areas that have developed more recently with chapters on the musical capacities of fetuses and infants, early musical development and education, practice, and performance. Finally, Part 4: The Meaning and Significance of Music examines the role of music in society with chapters on its social psychology, meaning, emotion, and culture.

The scope of the book is impressive, reflecting the diverse backgrounds of its authors. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.