Sunday, November 01, 2015

Finding the right question

I just realized I was asking the wrong question in my current research agenda. While finding out if average listeners are aware of the timbres involved can satisfy some curiosity, it is not the real thing I want to know. At one point David Huron told me that all researchers need to ask the God Question: "if you got to meet God, and ask Him one question, what would it be?"  My God Question is "How can I help people get the most out of music?" And then I narrow that to encompass my specific interest in timbre: "Does awareness of timbre positively affect music appreciation?"  And for that I can see if teaching a listener about timbre causes physiological changes when listening, and if it changes aesthetic responses in post-listening questionnaires or in-listening rating systems. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What Do You Hear?

When you listen to music, do you notice the lyrics, the melody, the harmony, the rhythm?  What about the instrumentation?  There is very little research out there on how cognizant the average listener is to the sources of musical sounds, beyond singers’ voices.  I am interested in figuring out how to do research in this area.  There are some established tools in music psychology:  brain scans (fMRI, EEG), physiological responses (pulse rate, galvanic skin response, breathing rate, muscle twitches), behavioral responses (attention span, listening choices), post-listening questionnaires, during-listening questionnaires, and continuous feedback with dials or iPads.  
Many studies on the edge of this question look at listeners’ preferences, or on the ability to consciously identify instruments in various settings.  But this doesn’t answer how often listeners think about sound production and timbre while listening, and whether an increased knowledge in these areas would affect listening habits and musical enlightenment.  
I believe music has the ability to affect our emotions, our intellects, our spirituality, and our relationships with each other.  And I believe that the intellectual study of music (music theory) can increase the effectiveness of these affects.  This is why I teach music, why I listen to music, why I perform music, and why I research music.