Music Psychology: The Building of a Community

By Graziano, Amy B. | Psychomusicology, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Music Psychology: The Building of a Community


Graziano, Amy B., Psychomusicology


ABSTRACT-Although music psychology as a research topic can be traced back to at least the 1880s, it was not until the 1980s that it became an academic discipline with its own identity. The autobiographies in this issue describe the transformation of music psychology from a topic pursued by isolated individuals in many different disciplines, into a more unified field. The turning point for the field came in the 1980s and 1990s when there was a rapid growth of specialized venues for interdisciplinary research in music: journals, national and international conferences, national and international societies, institutes and centers for research, and educational programs. Research was disseminated as never before, connecting researchers all over the world and forming a community of music psychology practitioners who share a common set of methods and theories. This has resulted in the bringing together of formerly separate lines of research, for example, research on music and the brain has now become an important part of music psychology; the formation of educational programs where students can earn degrees in music psychology; the building of a historiography for the field; and an expansion of research topics to cover all major aspects of music.

What defines an area of research as an academic discipline separate from related or parent disciplines? For music psychology an important part of the definition seems to be the existence of a community of researchers from disparate fields. The autobiographies in this issue describe the transformation of music psychology from a research topic pursued by isolated individuals in many different disciplines, into an academic discipline with its own identity. When and why did this transformation take place, and how has it changed research in music psychology? The contributors to this issue have addressed these questions through their own personal stories.

As a research topic, music psychology can be traced to at least the 1880s in Germany and Austria. The work of Hermann von Helmholtz (a physicist, physician and physiologist) can be considered the start of empirical research in psychoacoustics and music perception, but there was also an avid interest in higher-order cognitive processing of music. Psychologists (such as Carl Stumpf) and systematic musicologists (for example, Richard Wallaschek) pursued philosophical, theoretical and sometimes empirical work in music cognition (Graziano & Johnson, 2006) . At the same time in late nineteenthcentury Germany, neurologists pursued a similar but completely separate research path investigating acquired impairments in music skill in order to map brain localization of music function (Johnson & Graziano, 2003; Johnson, Graziano, 8c Hayward, in press) . Although dialogue and exchanges of ideas took place between psychologists and musicologists, there were very few substantive interactions between physiologists, psychologists/musicologists and neurologists. These disconnected lines of research - music perception, music cognition, music and brain - continued throughout the twentieth century. As Lola Cuddy and Mari Jones mention, for most of the twentieth century, individual researchers in music were isolated within their specific disciplines. And then, for most of our contributors, it all started to change in the 1980s.

During the 1980s and 1990s there was an explosion of activity, out of which emerged an academic discipline - music psychology. In his paper for this volume, Andrew Gregory describes John Sloboda's 1985 book, The Musical Mind, as a landmark publication. Sloboda's book combined a rigorous cognitive approach with an understanding of deeper musical factors; this combination stimulated music psychology research throughout Britain. Sloboda himself identifies the turning point for the field as the 1983 publication of Lerdahl and Jackendoffs Generative Theory of Tonal Music. This detailed, universal theory of musical structure sparked thinking, research, criticism and counter-theories, which have shaped music psychology as a field (Sloboda, 2005). …

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