Music Cognition Research

Recent Posts

I spoke with journalist Elisabeth Sherman about the research into music’s beneficial and detrimental effects on concentration.


Tune in to BBC radio 3 on May 20th 5pm to hear me speak to Tom Service about affective and embodied responses to syncopated music.


Recent & Upcoming Talks

Musical groove: Pleasure, movement and embodied neuroscience
Apr 10, 2019 3:30 PM
Musical groove: Effects on pleasure, body-movement and the brain
Dec 8, 2018 10:00 AM
Extended Mind, Vibe and Dance Music Consciousness
Apr 22, 2018 3:00 PM

Recent Publications

More Publications

. The sensation of groove is affected by the interaction of rhythmic and harmonic complexity. In PLoS ONE, 2019.


. Now you hear it: a predictive coding model for understanding rhythmic incongruity. In NYAS, 2018.


. Syncopation affects free body‑movement in musical groove. In EXBR, 2017.


. Oxytocin improves synchronisation in leader-follower interaction. In Sci Rep, 2016.


. Effeccts of polyphonic context, instrumentation, and metrical location on syncopation in music. In Mus Percept, 2014.


. Neural underpinnings of music: The polyrhythmic brain. In Neurobiology of Interval Timing, 2014.


Selected Publications

In this chapter, the embodied consciousness of clubbing and raving is considered through the theory of extended mind, according to which the mind is a distributed system where brain, body, and environment play equal parts. Building on the idea of music as affective atmosphere, a case is made for considering the vibe of a dance party as cognitively, socially, and affectively distributed. The chapter suggests that participating in the vibe affords primary musical consciousness—a kind of pre-reflexive state characterized by affective and bodily knowledge—and speculates about the neural correlates of clubbing and raving by means of an analogy with brain research on psychedelic states.
In Music and Consciousness II, 2019

What is it about groove in music that makes people move? And what explains the physical pleasure listeners and dancers experience as they synchronise their bodies to the beat? In this article, groove is analysed phenomenologically as a triangulation of rhythmic structure, embodiment and pleasure. Following a brief review of groove research, theories of extended mind and affective practice are added to demonstrate how groove is distributed amongst mind, body and music. In this distributed process, pleasure is not caused by some cognitivephysical stimulation, but rather emerges dynamically in the active participation in a cyclical mind-body-music system. The syncopated nature of the music provides the structural premise for the embodied extension. By opening up empty spaces in the rhythm – as illustrated in the house track ‘Drum Track’, by Helix (2012) – syncopations invite the body to fill in through entrainment and synchronised movement. When filling in the gaps, listeners and dancers enact aspects of the musical structure and thus become part of the groove itself. Rejecting drive-oriented models, this article argues that it is the process in action, rather than the achievement, that makes groove pleasurable, and it makes suggestions for how this process might be socially distributed.
In Music Analysis, 2017

Moving to music is an essential human pleasure particularly related to musical groove. Structurally, music associated with groove is often characterised by rhythmic complexity in the form of syncopation, frequently observed in musical styles such as funk, hip-hop and electronic dance music. Structural complexity has been related to positive affect in music more broadly, but the function of syncopation in eliciting pleasure and body-movement in groove is unknown. Here we report results from a web-based survey which investigated the relationship between syncopation and ratings of wanting to move and experienced pleasure. Participants heard funk drum-breaks with varying degrees of syncopation and audio entropy, and rated the extent to which the drum-breaks made them want to move and how much pleasure they experienced. While entropy was found to be a poor predictor of wanting to move and pleasure, the results showed that medium degrees of syncopation elicited the most desire to move and the most pleasure, particularly for participants who enjoy dancing to music. Hence, there is an inverted U-shaped relationship between syncopation, body-movement and pleasure, and syncopation seems to be an important structural factor in embodied and affective responses to groove.
In PLoS ONE, 2014


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