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Musicology dissected: So you study Music Technology?

Musicology dissected: So you study Music Technology?

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Musicology dissected: So you study Music Technology? - Hannelore Olivier


In its simplest form, Musicology basically means ‘the study of music’. Most standard academic music sources and reference works nowadays give a broad, all-encompassing account of musicology, including previously ‘neglected’ areas such as music technology under ‘systematic musicology’. These texts include the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart , who propose that a current definition of musicology covers all disciplinary approaches to the study of all music in all its manifestations and all its contexts, whether they be physical, acoustic, digital, multimedia, social, sociological, cultural, historical, geographical, ethnological, psychological, physiological, medicinal, pedagogical, therapeutic, or in relation to any other musically relevant discipline or context (Parncutt, 2007).

In short. If you are studying and conducting research in the field of music technology, welcome yourself as a student of Musicology.

As mentioned before, the area of Systematic Musicology is so broad, and if you’re interested in the more ‘academic’ side of things, it’s quite interesting how many diverse topics can potentially be included and studied within the ‘theoretical study of music technology’. These can span from analyzing film and advertisement music in order to see how they affect the human brain, creating and synthesizing sound libraries, sequencing, simulating and performing computer-based music or playing different genres of music to a plant and map how it behaves. (Which has been done numerous times before – for one interesting example on the effect of music on wine, see

A thought-provoking new area within Systematic Musicology which incorporates elements of music technology in its research is called Cognitive Systematic Musicology. One description of this study area is given by Huron (1999):

‘Cognitive Musicology is the study of habits of minds as they relate to music. Since minds are the products of both biology and culture, cognitive Musicology is an approach to the study of music that takes both biology and culture seriously. A common ground for both biological and cultural study is found in the domain of mental representations. Consequently, much of the day-to-day research of cognitive musicologists centres on discovering and deciphering various music-relates mental representations.’

One of the finders of the field, Leman, claims that this type of Musicology is the appropriate candidate to contribute enthusiastically to musical life in a modern information-technological society. The main purpose of Cognitive Systematic Musicology is the study of musical behaviour and –cognition in its many forms by using computational representation. The field looks at ‘musical intelligence’ as an independent entity, which can be distinguished from other human intelligences.

Over the past 4 decades, a lot of fascinating and sometimes bizarre studies have been done in this multidisciplinary area, a few briefly described below:

  • MUSCAT was a computed-programmed artificial neural network which could learn to find chords and keys from tones. Another system called an effective Boltzmann machine was taught to learn rules of music harmonization and could be used to create successful harmonies for unknown melodies.
  • The researchers Hinrichs & Machleidt (1992) proved that happy and sad music respectively demonstrated different electroencephalographic (EEG) coherence effects on the human brain. An EEG provides patterns of the electrical activities of the brain.
  • In a similar brain-related music study, it was proved by Panksepp (1993) that sad music produced more arousal (alpha blocking) than happy music.
  • Another study found that music favoured by people increased their level of pain tolerance. Music they didn’t like didn’t have that effect. Hekmat & Hertel (1993)
  • Research done by Crowder, Kastner, Umemoto, Heinlein and Hevner (1996) proved that the Western music scales of major and minor respectively had a positive- and negative emotional undertone for individuals from this cultural background. In accordance with these studies, Hoshino (1996) examined the emotional reaction of various diverse groups to the different musical modes that at present exist in Japan, namely those based on a western tonal system and modes originating from traditional Japanese music. The results illustrated that each mode produced a different impression (according to the melodic type) on the subjects, as well as additional differences in the emotional modal characters according to age group and to whether the subjects were musicians or non-musicians.

In part 2 of this article, another interesting field within Systematic Musicology will be discussed, namely the Psychology of music. If you’re interested in using neuroscience and research from Musicology to ‘manipulate’ people through your music (which has been done in many  advertising campaigns, games, filmscores), watch this space…


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1 comment

  • Doughboy posted by Doughboy Wednesday, 27 April 2016 08:09

    I love reading these articles because they're short but inrefmativo.

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