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Psychology of music

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Music Psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded either as a branch of psychology or as a branch of musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and musical experience. Modern music psychology is mainly empirical: music-psychological knowledge tends to advance primarily on the basis of interpretations of data about musical behavior and experience, which are collected by systematic observation of and interaction with human participants.

Humans spend enormous amounts of time, effort, and money on musical activities. Why? The modern, international field of music psychology is gradually exploring a multitude of issues that surround this central question. Music psychology may be regarded as scientific research about human culture. The results of this research have, and will continue to have, direct implications for matters of general concern: human values, human identity, human nature, and quality of life.

Questions in music psychology are often difficult to answer. It is therefore necessary to subject the research literature to careful quality control procedures. These generally take the form of anonymous expert peer review, which is a standard feature of all leading music-psychological societies, conferences, and journals.

Music psychologists investigate all aspects of musical behavior by applying methods and knowledge from all aspects of psychology. Topics of study include for example:


    • the interpersonal/social aspects of group performance
  • the daily lives and challenges of professional musicians, regardless of whether they

perform from scores or improvise, perform alone or in groups, or compose or arrange music on paper or with the aid of computers

Relevant areas of psychology include:

Relation to music and musicology

Music psychology can shed light on non-psychological aspects of musicology and musical practice. For example, music psychology contributes to music theory by investigating the perception of musical structures such as melody, harmony, tonality, rhythm, meter, and form. Research in music history can benefit from psychologically inspired, systematic study of the history of musical syntax, or from psychological analyses of the personalities of composers in relation to the psychological effect of their music. Ethnomusicology can benefit from psychological approaches to the study of music cognition in different cultures. Research is only beginning in many of these promising areas of interaction.

Leading music psychologists

Leading music psychologists of our time include


The main music psychology journals are:

The following journals include a high proportion of music-psychological articles:

Other music psychology journals include:

Music psychologists also publish in a wide range of mainstream musicology, music theory/analysis, psychology, music education, music therapy, music medicine, and systematic musicology journals. The latter include for example:


Leading book publishers in the area of music psychology include Oxford University Press and MIT Press.


The most important conference in music psychology is the biannual International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition.

Other important conferences are organized regularly by:

Regional music psychology conferences are organised regularly by:

Email lists

The leading email list in the area of music psychology is Psymus. Music-psychological topics are also addressed on the following lists:

  • Systematische Musikwissenschaft (MuWiSys)
  • Auditory
  • Society for Music Theory (SMT-LIST)
  • SMT Music Cognition Group (SMTMCG)
  • Euromusicology


Music psychology (including music perception, music cognition, and music performance research) is studied and researched at the following universities and music academies:

See also

References & Bibliography

Key texts


  • Sloboda, J.A. (1985) The Musical Mind: The Cognitive Psychology of Music. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A. (1988) Generative Processes in Music: the Psychology of Performance, Improvisation and Composition. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A., and Deliege, I. (1996) Musical Beginnings: Origins and Development of Musical Competence. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A., and Deliege, I. (1997) Perception and Cognition of Music. Mahwah NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
  • Sloboda, J. A. and Juslin, P. (Eds.) (2001). Music and Emotion: Theory and Research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J. A, (2004) Exploring the Musical Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Sloboda, J.A., Lehmann, A.C, Woody, R.H. (2007) Psychology for Musicians: Understanding and Acquiring the Skills. Oxford University Press, New York.


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