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Paper 12: An Introduction to Music and Science

Aims and objectives

This course is intended to help musicians gain an awareness of the problems and benefits involved in considering music from scientific perspectives, which provide insights about music that are different from those of practical, analytical, historical or critical studies. Scientific methods and concepts aim to help us ‘probe beneath the surface’ of our intuitions about the physical world, as well as those about the mental world, including our musical experiences. At the same time, however, the scientific approach can be interpreted as excluding other ways of understanding or knowing, and the concepts and practices of science require careful scrutiny in order to ascertain their limits.

The Introduction to Music & Science course explores the concepts underlying a scientific understanding of music. It starts by examining the relationships between music and science, the nature of empiricism, and proceeds to explore music from the perspectives of acoustics, psychoacoustics and the cognitive sciences. The course will also assess the impact of music technology, from the recording studio to computer music.

Description of the course

The course is taught by lectures, with one lecture a week taking place throughout Michaelmas and Lent Terms (sixteen in all). Michaelmas Term's teaching provides an introduction to basic physical concepts in sound, to sound-production on musical instruments and sound reproduction, as well as to the links between sound as a physical phenomenon and sound as we perceive it. In the Lent Term eight lectures are devoted to the scientific exploration of our experience of music from the perspective of cognitive science and neuroscience. Topics include:

  • the nature of musical perception, attention and memory;
  • rhythm and time in mind and brain;
  • the cognition of tonal structure;
  • music and human emotion;
  • music and the auditory environment;
  • musical in development;
  • music in performance.

Course materials will be made available on the web in advance of each week's lecture.


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