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July 11, 2018

Music Cognition Handbook: A Glossary of Concepts - Dictionary definitions for some 300 technical terms and concepts related to the field of music cognition


Lamar Sorrento's Best Painting

absolute pitch

(AP) The name given by psychologists to the phenomenon musicians call perfect pitch. The ability found in a minority of listeners, where the pitch of a tone can be accurately identified without relying on an external reference pitch. See also pitch,Hick-Hyman Law, colored hearing.

Pertaining to the objective physics of sound. Used in contrast to auditory -- which pertains to the subjective experience of a sound. For example, frequency is a physical or acoustical property, whereas pitch is a subjective or auditory property.

The time of the day when an individual is typically at his/her greatest arousal or energy level. Introverts tend to reach acrophase earlier in the day than is the case for extroverts (Tayer, 1996; p.16). See also arousal, arousal compatibility preference, personality.

active attention
The condition where a person willfully directs their mental consideration at some stimulus. In contrast to passive attention, active attention is voluntary. See also attention. Compare with arousal.

See epinephrine.

afferent nerves
Nerves which convey signals to the brain from various parts of the body. Afferent nerves communicate sensory and proprioceptive information such as pain, pressure, taste, sound, sight, etc. to the brain. Contrasts with efferent nerves.

A neurological disorder which causes a partial or complete loss of the ability to recognize otherwise familiar stimuli. Auditory agnosia is an inability to recognize sounds. See also agraphia, amusia, anomia, alexia, aphasia, aprosodia.

A neurological disorder which causes a partial or complete loss of a former ability to write. Loss of the ability to notate music is known as musical agraphia. See also agnosia, alexia, amusia, anomia, aphasia, aprosodia.

See depressants.

A neurological disorder which causes a partial or complete loss of a former ability to read. Loss of the ability to read music is known as musical alexia. See also agnosia, agraphia, amusia, anomia, aphasia, aprosodia.

allusive listening
Allusive listening is a presumed listening mode that may be said to occur where a listener relates moments or features of the music to similar moments or features in other musical works. (`This reminds me of a passage in Bartók ...'). Allusive listening may be viewed as a form of referential listening in which the referential connection is made to the domain of music itself. Philip Tagg (1979) has made extensive use of allusive listening as a tool for studying musical meaning. Tagg has suggested that a dictionary is indeed a reasonable model of meaning -- where a target word is understood in terms of a set of synomyns. Tagg has, in effect, created musical "dictionaries" by asking listeners to construct lists of musical works of which a given work reminds them. See distracted listening, tangential listening, metaphysical listening, signal listening, sing-along listening, lyric listening, programmatic listening, reminiscent listening, identity listening, retentive listening, fault listening, feature listening, innovation listening, memory scan listening, directed listening, distance listening, ecstatic listening, emotional listening, kinesthetic listening, performance listening. See also listening mode, cognitive style.

See amplitude modulation.

See stimulants.

The magnitude or strength of a signal. Amplitude is the degree of excursion about an average or equilibrium value exhibited by some oscillating quantity. For a vibrating object, amplitude may be expressed in terms of the velocity of the object in space, or the pressure it exerts, or other physical quantity. Amplitude is commonly measured by one of three methods: (1) the difference between the maximum excursion and the equilibrium point ("peak amplitude"), (2) the difference between the maximum positive and maximum negative points of excursion ("peak-to-peak amplitude"), and (3) the standard deviation of all values ("RMS amplitude"). For signals of audible frequency, amplitude corresponds roughly with our perception of loudness. See also amplitude modulation.

amplitude modulation
(AM). The varying of the amplitude of a signal, usually repetitively. For signals of audible frequency, amplitude modulations in the range of 1 Hz to ~15 Hz evoke a tremolo effect. See also shimmer.

A general term referring to any neurological disorder which interferes with musical functioning. Amusias might include musical alexia (lost ability to read music), musical agraphia (lost ability to notate music), musical anomia (lost ability to name works, composers, styles, etc.), and so on.

The tendency to interpret a stimulus as a variant of a prototype. Eleanor Rosch (1975) showed that a line tilted 10 degrees to the horizontal is perceived to be similar to a horizontal line. The tilted line is mentally encoded as a slight variant of the prototypic horizontal line.

The effect of anchoring has been demonstrated in melodies by Bharucha (1984). Recall that Krumhansl and Kessler found that, in a given key context, the most stable tone is the tonic, followed by the other tones of the tonic triad, followed by the remaining scale tones, followed by the non-scale tones. In the perception of melodies, less stable tones tend to become anchored to more stable tones that are close in pitch. For example, in the key of C major, the pitch D has a tendency to be anchored to either the neighboring C or E. Similarly, the pitch D# has a tendency to be anchored to the neared more stable pitch E. See also prototype, schema, focal stimulus, tonal hierarchy.

A neurological disorder which causes a marked inability to name otherwise familiar stimuli. Auditory anomia is an inability to name sounds -- such as identifying the sound of a door bell or passing automobiles. Examples of musical anomias might include a lost former ability to name musical works or styles, or the inability to name musical instruments from their sounds. See also agnosia, alexia.

See depressants.

A mental state of stress. Anxiety is associated with high cortisol levels in the blood. Behaviors include trembling, fidgeting, perspiring, fast respiration, higher pulse rate and higher blood pressure. An experiment carried out by Muzak Corporation at St. Joseph's Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska showed that sedative music can significantly reduce anxiety. See also arousal, Thayer's model of moods.

A general term referring to any neurological disorder which causes a complete or partial loss of language-related abilities. Loss of the ability to speak is referred to as expressive aphasia. Loss of the ability to understand spoken language is referred to as receptive aphasia. See also agnosia, agraphia, alexia, amusia, anomia, aprosodia.

A neurological disorder which causes a complete or partial loss of prosodic elements of speech production or reception. Prosodic elements of speech include pitch inflections and other features that indicate emotional tone -- such as anger, contempt, joy, parody, etc. Loss of the ability to speak with appropriate prosodic cues is referred to as expressive aprosodia. Loss of the ability to understand prosodic cues in spoken language is referred to as receptive aprosodia. See also agnosia, agraphia, alexia, amusia, anomia, aphasia.

An individual's general metabolic readiness to perceive and act. Increased arousal is associated with increased heart rate, increased body temperature, increased rate of breathing, increased oxygen consumption, increased glucose uptake, faster reaction times, and many other physiological changes. Different levels of arousal are most evident in the contrast between the states of sleep and wakefulness. See also acrophase, tonic arousal, phasic arousal, lullaby, stimulants, depressants, epinephrine, norepinephrine.

arousal compatibility preference
Listeners tend to prefer music that matches their pre-existing arousal level. When asleep, for example, most people have a low tolerance for music, especially when the music has a high level of stimulation. Conversely, when in a highly aroused state, most listeners find sedate music to be uninteresting or inappropriate. When engaged in aerobic exercise, for example, listeners show a strong aversion against sedate music -- even if the tempo of the music matches the pace of the workout. With increasing age, people often show an increased preference for sedate music. See also arousal, acrophase, tonic arousal, phasic arousal, stimulants, depressants.

associative memory
A simple form of memory that is established due to the co-occurrence of two stimuli or events. In the case of music, it is common for people to form personal associations between some particular musical work with a specific past circumstance where the work was first (or frequently) encountered. Associative memories may be entirely arbitrary. For example, a "happy" musical work might be associated with memories of a dangerous or life-threatening event. Conversely, a sedate musical work might be associated with memories of an exciting or thrilling event.
Associative memory is sometimes modelled using so-called connectionist networks. See also memory, priming.

The mental state of focusing on some stimulus. Sounds often signal changes in the environment, and so selectively attending to certain sounds can be an important strategy for survival. Psychologists distinguish voluntary and involuntary modes attention -- called active attention and passive attention, respectively. Attention is often signalled by an orienting response. See also dishabituation. Compare with arousal.

To lessen; especially to lessen the amplitude of a signal. When audio signals are attenuated, typically a decrease in loudness occurs. However, attenuation need not always affect loudness -- for example, the attenuation of a vibrato will result in a lessening of the "depth" of the vibrato.

audio frequency
Any frequency audible to the human ear. The range of audio frequencies is usually considered to lie in the region between 20 hertz and 20,000 hertz. However, the specific range of audio frequencies varies considerably from person to person -- varying especially with respect to age. See also frequency.

Pertaining to the subjective experience of sound. Used in contrast to acoustical -- which pertains to the objective physics of a sound. For example, frequency is a physical or acoustical property, whereas pitch is a subjective or auditory property. See primary auditory phenomena.

auditory evoked potential
When an isolated sound is heard, millions of neurons in the auditory cortex are activated. The near simultaneous firing of large numbers of neurons induces electrical potentials that can be measured with electrodes on the scalp. Auditory signals typically activate regions of the temporal lobes -- located just above the ears. Because the resulting electroencephalographs arise in response to a single sound, they are referred to as auditory evoked potentials or auditory evoked responses. See also P3, P300.

auditory induction
The subjective impression of a continuing sound, even though the sound is entirely absent.

When a pure tone is alternated with broad-band noise, the tone will appear as a continuous background tone with the noise overlayed. This phenomenon is analogous to the "picket fence" illusion in vision. That is, if two visual patterns are interleaved, there is a tendency for one pattern to appear to be an intermittent foreground (picket fence) and the other pattern to appear as a continuous background (what's behind the fence).

In ideal circumstances, auditory induction has been measured for as long as 30 seconds. That is, a listener has continued to perceive an absent tone as persisting for half a minute. See also
auditory streaming.

auditory streaming
The subjective sense of connectedness -- where two or more successive sounds appear to arise from the same sound-generating source. See also stream, primary auditory phenomena.


backward masking
See masking.

See depressants.

The unit of level, named after Alexander Graham Bell. The bel unit is itself rarely used -- the decibel (or one-tenth of a bel) being much more common. The level (in bels) between two signals may be determined by evaluating the logarithm (base-10) of the ratio of two quantities proportional to power.

Berlyne's Theory of Optimum Complexity
A theory promoted by Daniel Berlyne that the pleasure evoked by different kinds of stimuli is related to their degree of novelty. According to Berlyne, those stimuli with the greatest hedonic value (pleasure rating) tend toward some optimum degree of novelty or optimum complexity. The least pleasure is evoked when the stimulus is excessively novel (or complex), and when there is insufficient novelty (or complexity).

Efforts to test Berlyne's theory have had mixed results. One musical test of Berlyne's theory was carried out by Serafini and Huron (1989) where the tempo and harmonic complexity was examined for 20 string quartet movements by Haydn. As the number of notes per second (note-event complexity) decreases (as in the slower movements), the harmonic complexity increases. This implies that one type of complexity increases at the expense of another type of complexity -- hence maintaining some sort of overall optimum balance of stimulus complexity.


Pertaining to two ears, as in the binaural presentation of musical stimuli to a listener. Contrasts with monaural. See also monaural, diotic, dichotic. monophonic, stereophonic.

A momentary decrease in heart-rate followed by a recovery of the heart-rate -- commonly evoked by some stimulus. Bradycardic changes of heart-rate are associated with interest and attending to a stimulus. See also orienting response, attention, heart rate, personality. Compare tachycardia.

Broca's aphasia
A neurological disorder which causes a complete or partial loss of the ability to speak. Also known as expressive aphasia. Contrast with receptive aphasia. See also agnosia, agraphia, alexia, amusia, anomia, aphasia, aprosodia.

Burris-Meyer and Cardinell fatigue curve
Burris-Meyer and Cardinell carried out a series of studies to determine how fatigue varies over a typical workday. They measured variations in worker output from hour to hour and also determined what points in the workday employees perceive as passing most quickly or most slowly. They found that workers are typically most efficient shortly after they begin work in the morning. As the morning progresses, efficiency tends to fall, reaching a low point shortly after mid-morning. As lunch-time approaches, there is a gradual increase in productivity. Burris-Meyer and Cardinell hypothesized that this increase may arise due to efforts to complete tasks before lunch.

Productivity in the second half of the day shows a similar fall and then up-swing toward quitting time. However, the overall efficiency in the afternoon tends to be lower than for the morning.

Muzak for workplaces, the stimulus level of the music changes over the course of the day to compensate for the Burris-Meyer and Cardinell fatigue curves. Specifically, the stimulus level of the music increases during those parts of the day when efficiency is typically lowest.

Butler's diads
An illustration of how the perception of tonality can be influenced by rearranging an inventory of pitches. The diads F-B followed by E-C evokes a strong C major tonality. Whereas the diads E-B followed by F-C tend to evoke either an F major or E minor tonality. Contrast with Krumansl and Kessler key profiles.


See stimulants.

A common non-prescription or "recreational" depressant drug found in marijuana and hashish. Cannabis is sometimes incorrectly classified as a hallucinogen. However, it's capacity to induce halluncinations is low -- comparable to alcohol (Diaz, 1997; p.200). See depressants.

categorical perception
The tendency to perceive some stimuli as falling into discrete categories rather than in terms of gradients. In categorical perception, a perceptual "boundary" will be evident, even though the pysical phenomenon is continuous. One of the clearest examples of categorical perception may be found in the perception of color. Physics tells us that a rainbow exhibits a continuous gradient of wavelengths from longer wavelengths (seen as red) to shorter wavelengths (seen as blue). Although the rainbow is physically continuous, our perceptual experience is of discrete "bands" of color: red, yellow, green, etc.
In sound, categorical perception is evident in the perception of phonemic speech categories, such as the distinction between /d/ and /t/. In music, categorical perception is evident in the perception of pitch, interval sizes, chord qualities, and rhythmic categories.

The process of purging negative instincts. An important concept in ancient Greeks theory of drama. In viewing (say) portrayals of revenge, anger, or passion, Aristotle suggested that the audience would be less apt to act according to negative instincts. That is, by seeing someone portray a character who goes into a murderous rage, our own instincts to commit murder are somehow purged. In identifying with the character, we recognize the emotions that may lead to a certain action. But at the same time, we recognize that the action is wrong or inappropriate.

cephalic vasodilation

A general increased the diameter of the blood vessels in the brain -- often as part of the orienting response.

When the duration of a sound is less than a time threshold (about 20 milliseconds) required for pitch recognition, the sound is heard as a click rather than a tone.

Unit of pitch distance (or interval) corresponding to 1/100th of a semitone. A unit of measure introduced in the late 19th century by Alexander Ellis, and frequently used in studies of non-Western music. There are 1200 cents in an octave). One cent corresponds to a frequency ratio of the 1200th root of 2.

The experience of completion or finality. Points of closure typically occur at the ends of works, with lesser points of closure occuring at phrase boundaries. In speech, the closure of spoken phrases is known to be influenced by five factors: (1) the presence of a silent pause at the phrase boundary, (2) lengthening of the final stressed syllable, (3) a drop in amplitude, (4) phrase-final descending pitch, and (5) stress-rate slowing as the phrase boundary is approached. See also tonal closure, tonality.

The snail-shaped bone-encased fluid-filled organ of hearing. Anatomically, the cochlea is regarded as the inner ear. The cochlea receives vibrations conveyed from the timpanic membrane via the small bones of the middle ear. The last of these bones is connected to the oval window of the cochlea. Sound-induced vibrations are communicated to fluid in a tube-shaped chamber that is coiled to make 2 and one-half rotations. Motions of this fluid cause interior membranes (the tectorial and basilar membranes) to be displaced. Hair cells imbedded in these membranes are activated and the resulting neural impulses are communicated to the auditory nerve which exits from the cochlea. The cochlea is roughly the size of the tip of one's little finger. See also outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, pinna, basilar membrane.

The processes of human or animal thought. The acquisition, understanding, representation and manipulation of knowledge. See also cognitive science, sensation, perception.

cognitive penetrability
A term coined by Pylyshyn to denote the degree to which a cognitive process can be consciously influenced. A cognitive process is deemed to have low cognitive pentrability if it is unresponsive to expectation or conscious thought. See also introspection.

cognitive revolution
A common designation for the shift in popularity during the 1960s away from behaviorism toward cognitive psychology and cognitive science. See cognition.

cognitive science
The study of thought processes in animals (including humans) and machines. A broad field of cognitive research that often emphasizes computational and mathematical modeling. See cognition.

cognitive style
A way of problem-solving or thinking. A distinctive intellectual or perceptual/cognitive approach that is characteristic or preferred by a given individual. Different cognitive styles are thought to exist for mental mathematical calculation. In addition, it is thought that different listening styles exist. See also listening mode.

colored hearing
A form of hearing where particular tones, chords, or keys are associated with specific colors. Colored hearing may arise due to strong associations arising from childhood co-exposure to particular stimuli. Such forms of colored hearing are often associated with absolute pitch. Alternatively, colored hearing may arise due to a neurological condition called synesthesia.

complex tone
The term "complex tone" is used to identify tones consisting of more than one pure frequency component. Often the component frequencies (called partials) of a complex tone are related harmonically, but many times they are not. Occasionally complex tones will produce the sensation of more than one pitch. Whether a tone is recognized as being a single complex tone or a group of simple sine tones is in part dependent on the auditory context, as well as the experience, ability and attitude of the listener. Virtually all naturally occuring tones are complex. Contrast with sine tone.

compound melodic line
See pseudo-polyphony.

The subjective experience of pleasantness, euphoniousness, smoothness, fusion, or relaxedness evoked by sounds.

The subject of consonance and dissonance has a long history and many theories have been advanced. Some theories relate dissonance to cultural conditioning. Other theories relate dissonance to musical context. At least eleven classes of theories of consonance/dissonance can be defined. These include: (1) frequency ratio theory, (2) harmonic relationship theory, (3) temporal dissonance theory, (4) difference tones theory, (5) tonal fusion theory, (6) tonotopic theory (see
sensory dissonance), (7) virtual pitch theory, (8) expectation theory, (9) interval category theory, (10) absolute pitch category theory, and (11) stream incoherence theory. Further information is available on these theories.

Most theories regard consonance as merely the absence of dissonance. Other theories posit consonance and dissonance as distinct phenemona. See also dissonance, sensory dissonance, tonal fusion.

The anatomical arrangement by which some nerves originating on one side of the body are connected to the cerebral hemisphere on the opposite side of the body. For example, nerves which connect the left ear (left cochlea) to the right hemisphere of the brain are said to be contralaterally connected. Contrasts with ipsilateral.

convergent thinking
Deliberate thinking intended to solve some problem or address some task.

converging evidence
The view that we can be most confident of our knowledge when, no matter how we look at a phenomenon, the same answer is supported.


Anatomical term designating the convoluted or wrinkled surface region of the brain (from the Latin word for the "bark" of a tree). A living brain has a light red-brown color; however, after death the color changes to gray. This color continues until a depth of about an eighth of an inch -- where it changes to white. The surface (historically called "gray matter") constitutes the cerebral cortex. The gray matter coincides with a large mass of nerve cell bodies, while the underlying "white matter" coincides with long axon fibers emanating from the cell bodies in the gray matter. In evolutionary terms, the cortex is the most recent addition to human brains. Much of the higher-level mental functioning of the brain has been traced to cortical locations.

The cortex is divided into left and right
cerebral hemispheres. Four subdivisions or lobes can be identified in each hemisphere: the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes.

The neural activity of the cortex can be measured using techniques such as electroencephalography. See also subcortical.

A hormone whose presence is associated with stress. See also anxiety, Thayer's model of moods.

critical band
A frequency region within which tones interact. There are many forms of such interaction, but the most common is masking where the sounds tend to obscure each other. A common way to define the critical band is the smallest distance beyond which masking no longer occurs. This distance corresponds to roughly 1 millimeter distance along the basilar membrane of the cochlea.

In musical terms, critical bands are roughly a minor third in size in the vicinity of middle C and above. In log frequency terms, critical bands get larger as the register descends below middle C. The following notation indicates the approximate size of critical bands according to tessitura.
It is important to understand that the notated pitches represent pure tones rather than complex tones. As pure tones, each tone activates a region of the basilar membrane roughly one millimeter distant from the neighboring tones. From Huron (2001).

crowding perceptions
Retailers typically try to reduce the amount of physical space required for their business by moving the aisles closer together and raising the heights of the shelves. However, these actions cause consumers to feel unduly crowded. Three factors have been identified as influencing the perceptions of crowding in retail environments. These include (1) aisle width and height, (2) temperature, and (3) noise level. An environment is perceived to be crowded when the aisles are tall and close together, when the temperature is high, and when there is a lot of noise present. Marketing researchers have found that music provides a useful means for masking speech and footfall sounds that customer's associate with crowding. See masking, functional music.

The action of a vibrating system such that its pattern of change passes through a complete turn of events. The elapsed time for the completion of one cycle is called the period. The number of cycles occuring in one second is called the frequency.

cycles per second
The number of complete repetitions or occurrences in one second. See hertz, see also frequency, cycle,