Music 151:  Introduction to psychoacoustics and music cognition.

"Is it not strange that sheeps' guts
should hale souls out of men's bodies?"
-- Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing, III, 3)

Jonathan Berger ( - instructor
office hours: Wednesday 1-3 or by appointment

Chris Burns ( - TA
office hours: Monday 5-6:30 or by appointment

Parag Chordia ( - TA
Parag's web materials

New 2/25/00: terms for review

I. About the class


The primary objective of this class is to heighten your awareness and understanding of musical behaviors, be they your own or those belonging to others. In so doing you will hopefully become better practitioners of music. Whether you are setting microphones in a recording studio, developing a better audio compression scheme, composing, improvising, performing, or listening to music - an understanding of the acoustic, psychoacoustic, perceptual and cognitive characteristics at play will make you better musicians.

Music 151 will focus on the phenomenological aspects of music. Much of our time will be spent on the act of listening to music. We will introduce physiological and perceptual aspects of audition in general, and listening to music in particular. We will attempt to demystify weighty and terrifying terms such as talent and creativity by considering research on musical aptitude, music pedagogy, performance inflection and theories of emotion.


You should have theory and literacy skills at the level of music 22. We will be studying psychological bases of much that is taught in the core music theory sequence. It is assumed that you know about meter, scales and keys, and at least the basics of voice leading and tonal harmony. This knowledge is critical for an understanding of phenomena such as consonance and dissonance, expectations and contextualization, musical ambiguities, etc. Many students feel that the core theory courses are irrelevant ("Who cares about those damned parallel fifths?") or distant from their musical interests ("Why must I study sonata form when all I want to do is out Korn Korn?"). This course offers an opportunity for you to discover much of the relevance by considering music theory from a cognitive point of view. Don't be afraid to raise questions of relevance.


Music 151 requires your attendance and active participation. The class meets on Wednesdays from 10-12:50 with a lab or added lecture on Fridays at 11. Labs will never pass 50 minutes. Lectures may. You are required to attend both class meeting times.

There will be a reading list as well as a reserve listening list. It is critical that you listen to assigned works prior to the lecture for which it was assigned. The works will generally be short - and you should get to know them intimately. There may be occasional brief laboratory questions or reports.

There will be one project . Each student will design, implement and write up an experiment or a research project dealing with any aspect of music perception or cognition that strikes your fancy. By mid quarter your topic should be approved by 1-28-00. A lecture on February 2 will be devoted to experiment design. In the week that follows (i.e. by 2-9-00) In addition to submitting a written report (due 3-15) everyone will present their work in a 10 minute presentation on March 15th. There will be a written in-class final examination covering all topics presented in the class.


Your grade will be based on attendance and participation (45%), your project (40%) and the exam (15%).


There is no required text for the class. There will be required readings from the following books:

You will be asked to read selected papers as well. All books (except for Berger) and recordings will be placed on reserve in the Music Library. Copies of the Cook and Pierce books will also be on reserve in the CCRMA library.

Online resources


              Why do humans listen to music?
               Is there a 'right way' to listen? Is the musical experience common amongst all humans? Is it cross cultural?
               How (and why) do humans hear?
               How do they  acquire musical skills?
               How does utilization of these skills affect emotion?