Over the last two months, Nature has published a series of essays about the latest scientific research into music, and now that the series is complete, it has been made available as a free PDF.

Among the authors of the essays are Aniruddh D. Patel, a theoretical neurobiologist at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, who discusses the brain’s response to different varieties of music, and Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, who explains the neural basis of music perception.

Nature also has a special podcast featuring a discussion between science writer Philip Ball and music psychologist John Sloboda, both of whom contribute essays to the series.


  1. #1 HP
    July 7, 2008

    Sorry for the late comment. I had to go to work right after you posted this, but now I’m about halfway through the Nature essays. I have in the past (maybe here?) posted some pretty negative comments on the current state of music cognition research, but perhaps I’m responding primarily to the journalistic accounts of music cognition research, as the essays have addressed a lot of my major criticisms.*

    So I’m feeling a bit more favorably disposed toward the whole enterprise. I do wish that they weren’t so dismissive of the social aspects of music, and recognized that passively listening to recordings of music is historically insignificant. I think there’s an argument to be made that recordings bear the same relationship to music that photography bears to vision — a recording is a document of music, not the thing itself.

    There’s also the usual emphasis on the historical anomaly that is Western Classical Music, but WCM is consistent and repeatable, so I understand its appeal to researchers.

    It’s going to take me awhile to work through all the essays and my thoughts surrounding them, but in the meantime, I suggest that you and your readers do a YouTube search on Howler Monkeys and listen with fresh ears. While our nearest primate relatives may not engage in behaviors approximating music (a case might be might for the group pant-hoots of chimps), I think the vocalizations of howler monkeys are probably the closest analogue to music among non-human primates, and it’s not like the capacity to use extended vocalizations to promote social cohesion is absent from our extended lineage.

    * Minor nit: “Take the tonic-minor third interval, for example: this ubiquitous musical element does not feature in the harmonic series at all.” (Philip Ball, “Facing the Music”) Actually, the distance between the sixth and seventh overtones of the fundamental is a minor third, albeit a much narrower third than is found in just intonation or equal temperament. E.g., with a fundamental of C, the sixth and seventh overtones are g’ and b-flat’. For that matter, overtones 6,7,8,9 form a tetrachord that is ubiquitous in blues (generally with the 7th overtone overlaid against the Western tonic or dominant) and also found in much West African traditional music. See Schuller, G. Early Jazz.

  2. I wonder too if the accuracy of music playback has an impact on how we perceive the musical event. How much does the quality of sound, lack of distortion etc. have an effect on how much we enjoy the piece or movement.

    I’ve been studying jitter as it relates to the play back of a digital medium and it seems to me that the higher the distortion, the less involving the music seems. I can measure the jitter but I’m still thinking about how to measure the affect this has on us, if any. analysis

  3. #3 George Morris
    April 22, 2011

    The PDF at is corrupt and I cannot open it.

    Thank You,
    George Morris

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