Empirical Musicology: Aims, Methods, Prospects

By Eric Clarke; Nicholas Cook | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Music as Social Behavior

Jane W. Davidson


Introduction

In the vast majority of music-making contexts, the real or implied presence of others means that at some level social communication or interaction takes place: singing a lullaby, a work song, a hunting song, or a school song; chanting as the member of a football crowd; participating as either a musical performer or a spectator in a symphony orchestra concert or at a Hindu wedding. In fact, individual practice is one of the rare musical occasions when there is no involvement with a co-performer or spectator, but even here there is generally a social goal: the preparation of a performance. Recordings might seem to be another exception, but the social element is still implied: there is a need to communicate the musical content to someone else, even if for the duration of the recording the audience is imaginary. Music is a social act, but investigating how social behaviors function in different musical contexts, and what significance they have, is a very recent research interest in psychological approaches to Western music (for an overview see Hargreaves and North 1999). The delayed development of social psychological research seems to be the result of a largely reductionist approach to music which has tried to understand it in terms of its structural elements: melody, harmony, rhythm, and so forth. But, as general interest in issues related to attitudes and beliefs, and individual and group behavior, has grown, so too has the interest in music as a social-behavioral phenomenon.

Within the psychology of music, Farnsworth (1954) was one of the first to exhibit an explicit interest in such issues, arguing that it was not sufficient to look at how a song functioned musically; rather it was important to know how the performing context operated, and how it affected both performer and audience. Anecdotal accounts can go some way toward describing social behaviors, but the motivation behind the work of researchers such as Farnsworth was to undertake more systematic investigations. They wanted to generalize from their observations, measuring the frequencies of musical behaviors and the interrelationships of these behaviors within and across individuals. Thus they adopted quantitative research designs employing statistical techniques in the analysis of data. By the 1970s and 1980s, however, experimental studies were increasingly complemented by work influenced by the writings of theorists like Harré (1979, 1992a, 1992b), who demonstrated that controlled manipulation under experimental conditions was not always an appropriate methodology when looking at beliefs and behaviors. Out of these kinds of theoretical discussion emerged New Paradigm Research, which adopted qualitative research techniques such as in-depth semistructured interviews and par-

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