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Music Cognition

Catalogue Number
Admin. code
6 ( 6 EC)
Entry requirements
Relevant BA or equivalent.
Time Period(s)
Semester 2 block 2 More info
Educational institute
Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies
F.L. Bouwer MSc (co-ordinator) and prof. dr. H.J. Honing ( prof. dr. H.J. Honing, Fleur Bouwer MSc (coordinator),.)
Secretariaat IIS
Science Park 904 kamer C2.116
+31 20 5255190
Is part of ...


Insight in the aims, methods and recent results in the field of music cognition.


Why do we have music? Is it mere cultural phenomenon or is music biologically constrained? And if the latter is the case, is it possible to identify which biological and/or cognitive traits make us musical animals?

Most evolutionary scientists agree that music is in fact pointless. 'As far as biological cause and effect are concerned, music is useless... it is a technology, not an adaption' (Pinker, 1997). This statement- and the reference to music as 'auditory cheesecake', are mere pleasure generating substance- did not increase Pinkers popularity among those studying music. Nevertheless, he succeeded well in starting up a discussion under music scholars and cognition scientists on why we have music, and why it could be relevant for cognitive science to study music at all (e.g. Ashley et al., 2006; Zatorre, 2005).

This course discusses recent developments in the research field of music cognition, such as the role of perception, attention, and memory in music listening, as well as the shaping role of these cognitive mechanisms in the origins of music. Topics include a) the origins and evolution of music, b) the cognition of rhythm and pitch, c) musical competence, d) the similarities and differences between music and language, and e) the computational modelling of music cognition. The topics might change due to recent developments. All topics are introduced in a two hour lecture, followed by a seminar in which each week at least two (recent) papers will be discussed. For this the students are asked to bring in issues for a plenary discussion and/or prepare position statements.The course is closed with an essay elaborating on one of the topics that were discussed in the course.

N.B. Students are expected to be familiar with the main terminology of music and music cognition research. Those that unfamiliar with music or the field of music cognition are advised to read:

  1. Thompson, W.F. (2008) Music, Thought, and Feeling. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

See for a short introduction to music cognition: http://www.musiccognition.nl/tv/

See for additional information http://www.mcg.uva.nl

Registration at

You must register through SIS before January 6th 2014. Students from masters other than Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Logic need to submit a secondary subject application form. More information and the form can be found at: http://abc.uva.nl/education/information-for-current-students/electives/request-for-application-mbcs-courses.html


Seminar, (guest) lectures.


see http://rooster.uva.nl

Study materials

Reader with articles (available on UvA Blackboard).

Min/max participants

max. 22


10% weekly assignments

40% Research proposal

50% Essay