Music and Medicine (January 2012)

Music and Medicine deals primarily with studies in music therapy, both from an active and passive stance: How is illness x (or symptoms x, y, & z) affected by either passive listening, interactive musical activities, or both? Most studies note a positive post-therapy result that is statistically significant.

One common finding is that listening to certain kinds of music (typically soft and mellow; one study used the sounds of a monochord) is effective in reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and pain.

Most of the other research focuses on the effects of music therapy on psychological issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, anger, stress) and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., autism).

Chopin, Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4

Upon first listening to this work, many conventional conceptions of rhythm come to mind: there is a steady eight-note pulse; the opening 12-measure unit is neatly divided into three 4-measure phrases (an easily identifiable hyper-meter); and the brief interruption of the eight-note pulse half-way through the work establishes a two-part structure (each part of which has a clear beginning and end). The start of the second part (m. 13) suggests periodicity, given that it is a re-beginning. And in this respect, one could interpret the form of this work—albeit very loosely—as a period or periodic hybrid.

Despite the snaking chromaticism in the left hand, the upper voice establishes a consistent accent pattern, which is emphasized by Chopin’s persistent use of upper-neighbor tones. This pattern, however, is obscured in the second part of the work, where Chopin deviates from the opening measures and launches into a stretto passage that sounds quasi-improvisatory.

The stretching of tempo asked for in this section, which is typical of Chopin’s rubato technique, raises an interesting question with regards to our perception of rhythm: are listeners able to follow an implied background pulse despite ongoing superficial contortions of tempo, or do they simply lose their orientation momentarily? The answer to this question depends partly on the performer. From a performative point of view, we are often taught to count internally in order to proportion variations in tempo. I.e., we are discouraged from playing gradual changes in tempo as we “feel” them; instead, we are encouraged to construct some kind of internal scaffolding such that the performance isn’t “random”.

One final point of interest: as the music progresses, the overall sense of rhythm seems to become weaker and weaker. The first twelve measures, as already noted, divide nicely into symmetrical units with a clear end point; the ensuing eleven measures, though still with a steady eighth-note pulse and recognizable accent structure, loosen our sense of rhythmic orientation via stretto; and the final two measures, which are set apart by a fermata, obscure this sense altogether.

The formulaic cadential tag that closes the work then reestablishes order, both rhythmically and harmonically. And so is seems that rhythm contributes significantly to our emotional response to the work: we are grounded, then lost, and then reunited with order. It would be fascinating to see what kinds of emotions this sort of pattern elicits in listeners.

In summary, it seems that this piece can be viewed fruitfully from at least three of the four rhythmic perspectives we talked about: rhythm as order and proportion, rhythm as movement, and rhythm as form.

Week 1 Assignments

Below is the list of tasks for this week; also, if you know someone you think might be interested in this course (even from a different department), please let them know about it! It would be nice to add a few more bodies… and minds to the group.

1. Readings: Both articles listed on the syllabus for September 5; preliminary response on Huron to be posted on Virtual Lab’s Forum by Tuesday, 11:59 PM.

2. Topical area selection: Last chance to change your mind about your selected topical area for the student-led discussion!

3. Review of music cognition journals: Follow the steps listed in the “Journals” page of “Resources”. Only step 1 is due for now, but you might want to get ahead and start browsing through the most current issue (or the next most current, if it doesn’t contain enough rhythm-related articles).

4.Student questionnaire: Fill-out and bring with you to the next class meeting.

5. Continuation of “Defining Musical Temporality” activities:

a. Review the document titled “Some Theoretical Foundations of Musical Rhythm.” We will  not discuss this in class, but you should know about these theorists and their conceptual framework.

b. Listen to one more piece from the listening list (these are available on classes*v2). What terms from the list (“Activity 2”) would allow for a fruitful investigation of musical rhythm in this piece? What are some of the questions that are raised by thinking about rhythm and the experience of musical time or “temporality”  (e.g., time perspective, time sense, duration judgment) in this particular work? How would someone define musical rhythm based on this work alone? Post a brief commentary on the Forum blog with the work title as the header. You may also read your colleagues’ commentary and respond to them.

c. Complete “Activity 3” in the handout. We will review this at the beginning of next class.

Review of Music Cognition Journals

To familiarize yourself with the scope of publications available in the field of music cognition, I invite each of you to conduct a guided review of a different journal devoted at least in part to the study of music cognition topics. This review will take the form of posting on this page and a brief critical summary of current journal issue(s) that you will present in class at a later date. Here are the steps:

1. Visit the journals listing on Music Cognition U. ( and pick one journal you would to review. Create a posting of this journal’s website on this page (this will insure that nobody else picks the same). NOTE: If you are not sure how to create a new post, please refer to Pam Patterson’s handout (available on classes*v2).

2. Browse through the most current issue of the journal (most of these should be available on Yale’s electronic journals database, but you might also have to take a trip to the library). What are some general characteristics of the topics investigated? Take special note of music-related (rhythm and non-rhythm) articles.

3. Read through the abstracts of the rhythm-related articles in that issue; if there are less than 3, go back one issue until you find at least 3. For each of these, think about the following questions: What is the larger question, i.e., what aspect of (our experience of) musical rhythm is being explored? What is the specific hypothesis? How is it operationalized? What are the findings? How are these findings related back to the initial question? What are some of the limitations identified by the researcher(s)?

4. Browse through as much of the articles as necessary to answer the questions above and write a brief critical summary of your observations that uses specific examples from the sample articles to make your point. You don’t need to present all the information gathered, but only enough to prepare a cogent presentation to your colleagues (10 minutes + 5 minutes for questions).

5. Present your summary to the class (date TBA) and revise your posting on this page to include a few highlights.

Bridging the gap: One view on what scientific methods have to offer to music research

Since the shift from largely structure-focused to more listener-focused music analysis, there has been increasing interest not only in questions of music perception and cognition, but also in methods borrowed from the sciences, in particular computational analysis and behavioral experimentation. In his third 1999 Ernest Bloch Lecture (, David Huron offers a survey of trends in research methodology that attempts to reconcile postmodernism and scientific empiricism. Focusing on the second part of this lecture, reflect on the following questions: According the Huron, what are the main (methodological) differences that arise in relation to these two perspectives? How do these differences relate to the two forms of skepticism he identifies? What is the “moral” dilemma that faces the researcher and how can this inform a researcher’s choice of methods? And finally, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of applying empirical methods to music research questions?

In preparation for class discussion, please post a short preliminary comment, no later than Tuesday, September 3, 11:59 PM. You may respond to one of the above questions or raise other questions you find particularly interesting. Make sure to review your colleagues’ responses before class meets.