Listening to music

William Forde Thompson, Glenn E. Schellenberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


This chapter discusses some pointers to current research methodology and brings to attention the processes in music perception often taken for granted such as melody perception, timbre, and rhythm. It identifies the nature-nurture controversy as one of the most contentious issues in the psychology of music, as it is in the field of psychology as a whole. It argues that experiences of music are shaped by a combination of enculturation and cognitive constraints, and cites numerous sources of evidence for psychological constraints on music experience. Such constraints include working-memory limitations, sensitivity to sensory consonance and dissonance, the perceptual salience of pitch contours, perceptual grouping as a function of proximity, predispositions that favor simple meters and rhythms, processing biases for intervals with small-integer ratios, and reliable memories for the absolute pitch and timbre of frequently encountered auditory stimuli. Even rules of counterpoint and voice leading are strongly linked to cognitive constraints.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMENC Handbook of Musical Cognition and Development
EditorsRichard Colwell
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199850723
ISBN (Print)9780195304565
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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