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Christopher Corcoran

Christopher Corcoran

PhD student

MA, MMus, BA


Chris Corcoran is a German-Irish composer and researcher completing a PhD (awaiting defence) in Music at the University of Cambridge. His PhD is divided between studying empirical musicology/music psychology with Dr Neta Spiro (formerly Prof Nicholas Cook) and composition with composer Prof Richard Causton. 2018–19 he was a visiting researcher at the Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen. He is currently a lecturer at the Division of Musicology, Lund University, Sweden.


Chris’s research with Dr Neta Spiro (and formerly Prof Nicholas Cook) experimentally investigates questions of cognition and musicology, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. His thesis explores how enculturation shapes music cognition and action, using the concrete example of how classical musician’s deal with the concept of groove or swing. It explores modes of music learning (by ear or by notation), forms of music notation, influences of notation styles on rhythmic behaviour, empirical assessments of swing and groove by jazz listeners, and microrhythmic aspects of swing and groove.

As a result, Chris’s research touches on a wide range of topics, including: Notation-based learning vs. aural learning; cognitive factors in music literacy, sight-reading and score-dependency; cognition of swing and groove; popular music techniques and associated performer interactions; empirical assessment of microrhythms; issues in jazz, popular, third-stream, and contemporary classical music notation.


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 long experience as an electric guitarist, his compositions blend rhythms from jazz/popular music with contemporary classical composition techniques. His studies with Richard Causton focus on the application of groove in contemporary concert music. He also writes music for film, theatre, and audio-visual media, and plays guitar in various bands.

Research Interests

Cognitive issues in notation-based vs. aural learning; literacy, music reading, and score-dependency; empirical studies of jazz and groove music (cognition, microyrhythms, physiological responses, techniques, performer interactions); notation of jazz, popular, third-stream, and complexity music; contemporary and third-stream/crossover composition.


At Cambridge, Chris has taught as supervisor on the 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 and numerous conferences (see below). Chris is currently a lecturer at the Division of Musicology, Lund University, Sweden, where he lectures on the history of popular music and 20th century art music.

Other Professional Activities

Before coming to Cambridge, Chris spent several years working in London’s music industry, including for publishers Schott Music, Oxford University Press, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and as personal assistant to composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

Chris holds an MMus (with Distinction) from King’s College London in contemporary instrumental composition, as well as an MA from City University London in 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 in BA Music.

Key Publications

Corcoran, C. (2020). Swinging the Score: Compositional and empirical investigations into the performance of swing and groove rhythms by score-reading musicians [Thesis & portfolio of compositions with commentary]. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge). [submitted]

Corcoran, C. & Spiro, N. (2020). Score-dependency: Over-reliance on performing music from notation reduces aural pitch replication skills. Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies. [accepted]     

Corcoran, C. & Frieler, K. (2020). Playing it straight: Analysing jazz soloists’ eighth-note distributions with the Weimar Jazz Database. Music Perception. [submitted]

Corcoran, C. (2019) Report on symposium “Time changes in experiences of music and dance” – Hamburg, 29.-30. November 2019. Yearbook of Music Psychology (Jahrbuch Musikpsychologie). [accepted]

Allingham, E., & Corcoran, C. (2018). Report on the 10th International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology (SysMus17). Music & Science, 1. DOI: 10.1177/2059204317741717

FMC Collection 12: Paul Dukas: Writings (1892-1894). Francophone Music Criticism. London: Institute of Musical Research, University of London. Link. [accredited as research assistant]


Other Publications

’Score-dependency: Long-term cognitive effects of playing from music notation’. Centre for Systematic Musicology Graz. University of Graz, Austria. January 2020. [Remote presentation via video conference.] Can be viewed here:

’Enculturated time: Cultural barriers in the way classical musicians perform “swing time”. Symposium: “Time changes in experiences of music and dance”. Institute of Systematic Musicology, University of Hamburg, Germany. November 2019. (Poster).

’Sensing Swing: Score-dependency as a factor in swing performances by classical musicians.’ Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology. Centre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz, Austria. September 2019.

’How score-dependent are classical musicians? Assessing reliance on music notation over aural information when learning new music’. International conference of the Students of Systematic Musicology (SysMus). SRH Hochschule der populären Künste (hdpk), Berlin, Germany. September 2019.

’Score-dependency: Long-term effects of notation-based music learning on classical musicians as an expression of measurability’. Conference of the International Society of Theoretical Psychologists (ISTP). Danish University of Education, Copenhagen, Denmark. August 2019.

’Learning to Swing: Interactions of aural and notation-based learning in classical musicians’. Music Pedagogy Unit, Danish University of Education. March 2019.

’Notating the Un-notatable: The challenges of documenting swing rhythms in notation for score-reading musicians’. Documenting Jazz conference, Conservatory of Music and Drama, Technical University Dublin, Ireland. January 2019.

’Notation-based responses to swing music in unenculturated musicians’. Center for Music in the Brain, Institute of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University. June 2018. [repeated November 2018 at Center for Visual Cognition, Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen].

’Swing Psychology: Empirically assessing aesthetic issues in swing music performance’. Center for phenomenological psychology and aesthetics. Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen. May 2018.

’Keeping Score: Notational solutions for crossover compositions’. Centre for Music and Science, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge. January 2018.

’Combining Popular and Contemporary Classical Compositional Techniques’. Composers Workshop, Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge. November 2017.

Closing Statements. International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology 2017 (SysMus 2017), Music Cognition Lab, Queen Mary University of London. September 2017.

’Music Notational Innovations’. Workshop: Moving Forward: Art, Entrepreneurship and Institutions, Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School. August 2016.