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Christopher Corcoran

Christopher Corcoran

PhD student

MA, MMus, BA


Chris Corcoran is a German-Irish composer and researcher currently studying for a PhD in Music at the University of Cambridge. His PhD is divided between studying composition with composer Richard Causton and music psychology with Dr Neta Spiro (formerly Prof Nicholas Cook). From March to September 2018 he was a visiting researcher at the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen.


Chris is an active composer, with performances and workshops across Europe, among others with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, leaders of the Irish National Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Lontano, Ensemble Plus-Minus, and cellist Matthew Barley. In 2015 he was a Composer-in-residence with the avant-garde and jazz music venue Club Inégales in London through Sound and Music’s ‘Embedded’ scheme.

Based on his experience as a guitarist, Chris’s compositions blend blues, jazz, and rock influences with classical music structures and contemporary composition techniques. His composition studies with Richard Causton focus on the application of groove rhythms in contemporary concert music. He also writes music for film, theatre, and audio-visual media.


Chris’s research with Dr Neta Spiro experimentally investigates questions of rhythmic behaviour based on aural vs. notation-based learning, with application to the performance of groove and swing rhythms. His thesis explores the interaction of differing music notation styles with aural priming on score-reliant performers. As part of this, Chris has developed an empirically-based experimental notation, aimed at helping unenculturated score-reliant musicians to swing or groove.

Therefore Chris’s research touches on a wide range of topics, including: Notation-based learning vs. aural learning; cognitive factors in sight-reading and score-dependency; issues in internal representation of music, linked to aural feedback and pitch-to-pace mapping; psychology of swing and groove techniques and associated performer interactions; empirical assessment of microrhythms; issues in jazz, popular, third-stream, and contemporary classical music notation.


Before coming to Cambridge, Chris spent several years working in London’s music industry, including for publishers Schott Music, Oxford University Press, and the Philharmonia Orchestra. From 2015 to 2016 he had the pleasure of working as Personal Assistant to composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Chris holds an MMus (with Distinction) from King’s College London, where he studied contemporary composition, and an MA from City University London, where he studied composing with digital and studio resources. He gained a BA in English and Music from NUI Maynooth with double First-Class Honours, winning the class prize for the highest final exam results in BA Music. He is acknowledged for his work as a research assistant on the international musicological online database Francophone Music Criticism (Institute of Musical Research, University of London).

Teaching & Presentations

Chris has taught at university-level and as private guitar instructor. At Cambridge, he has taught as supervisor on four different undergraduate courses: ‘Orchestration’, ‘The Music Industry in the Digital Age’, ‘Introduction to Music and Science’, and 'Exploring Music Psychology'. He has presented at various institutions, including the Cambridge Centre for Music and Science, Cambridge University Composers' Workshop, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen University's Psychology Department, and the Center for Music in the Brain Aarhus. His review of the international conference SysMus 2017 (with Emma Allingham) was published in the SAGE journal Music and Science.


Research Interests

Notation-based learning vs. aural learning; music reading and score-dependency; internal representations of music; empirical studies of jazz and groove music (microyrhythms, physiological/psychological responses, techniques, performer interactions); jazz, popular, third-stream, and complexity music notation.