Music Perception and Embodied Music Cognition

Authored by: Marc Leman , Pieter-Jan Maes

The Routledge Handbook of Embodied Cognition

Print publication date:  May  2014
Online publication date:  April  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415623612
eBook ISBN: 9781315775845
Adobe ISBN: 9781317688662


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Music has the capacity to affect humans’ affective, social and cognitive abilities in different ways. For example, music may be used to regulate a person’s mood after a stressful day driving home. Music may be used to connect with other people during rituals, or dancing parties. And many people use music to enjoy the different flavors of sound in aesthetic experiences at home, to learn about the quality of organized sounds and interpret their meanings along with its flow. The different ways of interacting with music have in common that music is most engaging and thus attractive and alluring. People get involved with music and want to be fully absorbed by it. Apparently, there are few things in our environment that touch human nature so profoundly. Why is it? And what is the possible benefit of this musical power? These questions turn out to be extremely difficult and hard to answer because musical experience is subtle and ineffable. Moreover, there are many variable factors that play a role, such as the energetic level or mood of the subject involved with music, the previous preoccupations and conditioning, personality, familiarity, cultural background, context, or educational level. In short, the elusive character of music and the variable context in which music is dealt with make it a challenging research topic. Nevertheless, the power of music touches the core of our human abilities and its understanding necessitates an interdisciplinary research approach. As a matter of fact a core factor of musical power is based on the listener’s ability to interact with music. And a major precondition of this ability is that music is perceived, that is, processed through the senses, perhaps on the basis of previous perception, perhaps involving awareness, conceptualization and interpretation. The concept of perception thus involves a range from sensation to cognition, emotion and even interpretation. In what follows we first consider music perception from a cognitive viewpoint. Then we provide a critique of this cognitive approach and we look for direct evidence for the hypothesis that music perception is integrated with other modalities of human behavior, such as movement and emotion. In the final section we present a dynamic framework in which music perception is tightly linked with body movement, action and environmental interaction.

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