Benjamin Teitelbaum

Brown University

May 2008


Annotated Bibliography for


Bridging the Gap: Ethnomusicology and Cognitive Science




The late-twentieth-century postmodern critique marginalized cognitive science's presence in cultural studies. The staunchly humanistic discipline of ethnomusicology embraced methodological and epistemological paradigms of theorists such as Clifford Geertz--paradigms that left little room for the quantifying, positivist approaches of cognitive science. Scholars of music cognition, no longer welcome in many ethnomusicological debates, left to form their own discipline and found their own journals. Outside of some noteworthy exceptions, the schism between humanistic and scientific music scholars continues in the present. However, recent, seminal works in music cognition point to a shift away from the very methodologies once rejected by ethnomusicology, a shift accompanied by increasing use of cognitive linguistics. My study begins by tracing the estrangement of humanistic and scientific scholars in musical research from the flowering of the cognitive paradigm in the 1970s, through the break-up in the 1980s, and to the signs of reconciliation in the previous ten years. In the latter phase, I argue specifically that the topics of musical imagery in music cognition, and technology and musical knowledge in ethnomusicology share similar subject matter. I end by calling for increased collaboration in such fields of inquiry, and between the subdisciplines of ethnomusicology and music cognition in general.




Antonietti, Alessandro. 1991. “Why Does Mental Visualization Facilitate Problem-Solving?” In Mental Images in Human Cognition, eds. Robert H. Logie and Michel Denis. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B. V.


Mental images serve to simplify and accentuate salient features of tasks. Further, they allow one to anticipate situations before they occur. (could we say that they are tools of conceptual extension, combination? See Hampton 1997 below). Antonietti writes, (citing Shepard 1978 In Visual Learning, Thinking and Communication), that many tasks are conceived of in algorithmic fashion (could this be because of their linear presentation through language?), and that imaging, producing a holistic gestalt of a state of events, escapes that understanding. This can make solving problems easier (citing Kaufman 1985 in Journal of Mental Imagery 9). Question: Mental images represent what we understand to be salient features. Does this mean that images are automatically analyses?


Baddeley, Alan, and Robert Logie. 1992. “Auditory Imagery and Working Memory.” In Audio Imagery, ed. Daniel Reisberg. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


This article aims to locate auditory imagery in cognition. It questions whether auditory imagery is located in working memory, and in the phonological loop of working memory in particular. They conclude that aspects of auditory imagery that help problem solving may be in the phonological loop, but aspects that create experience may not be. What I take from all of this is that mental images not only derive from and represent different experiences, they are also used in different ways—each use being subject perhaps to different limitation within cognition.


Baker, Geoffrey. 2008. Imposing Harmony. Durham: Duke University Press.

                 An interesting look at the role of music in the colonization of Latin America. He argues that musical practice provided a battleground for power struggles between the colonizers and the Indians. This book deserves another look.


Baker, James M. 2001. “The Keyboard as Basis for Imagery of Pitch Relations.” In Musical Imagery, eds. Rolf Inge Godøy and Harald Jørgensen. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets and Zeitlinger.

                 Baker investigates musical imaging through instruments and through performance of instruments. The phenomenon of people imagining themselves playing an instrument, often for the purpose of musical dictation or recall, shows that “Musical imagery…derives from a complex web of auditory, visual, tactile, motor, and other experiences, from which no single type of stimulus or mode of perception can easily be extracted” (2001:251). Baker argues that the keyboard is a basis for auditory imaging. He provides an excellent overview of recent literature showing motor engagement (actual or imagined) leads to more vivid and useful auditory images. He points to composition idiomatic for certain instruments as possibly deriving from instrument imaging during the composition process. He ends by saying “Almost all Western composers since the establishment of the figured bass have learned the basics through the keyboard, and regularly composed at the piano. This leads him to the conclusion that “keyboard imaging has been a determining factor of structure in much of the great body of Western art music composed over the past four centuries” (267).

                 Baker’s chapter is a reminder of the multi-sensory nature of music imaging. Sound, objects, and our use of those objects construct musical images. Also, he references some interesting philosophers of cognition worth reading (Mark L. Johnson and Gerald M. Edelman).


Bloch, Maurice. 1989. Ritual, History and Power: Selected Papers in Anthropology. The Athlone Press: London.

Bloch contrasts two notions of cognition bearing different epistemological foundations, one from psychology, and one from anthropology. The psychological approach claims people amass a body of mental capacities from birth based on the challenges they face in their environment. The anthropological approach claims that people inherit a prepared body of skills though culture, downplaying the agency of individuals. Bloch argues, however, that the physiological cognition rejected by social scientists is not analogous to the psychological cognition of today, and thus these age-old critiques should be reevaluated. The cognitive approach, as expressed in the philosophies of Hume, was rejected by Marx (by way of Kant). The argument against psychological cognition pointed out that individuals cannot choose their mode of cognition, and that all action implies the preexistence of cognition, rather than an event or problem to which cognition must react. Marx adopted a mixture of both approaches, noting that the psychological variant indicated a more enlightened account of a state of events, whereas the anthropological represented falsifying ideology (does that mean Marx strives for a psych cog? Bloch does not say). Durkheim, whose nuanced reading of all of this serves as a more direct influenced on contemporary anthropology, “sees cognition in a non-individual process, but in another sense he is also enthusiastically psychological in that he sees social action as entirely determined by the cognitive system which the society has implanted in the individual” (108). Citing psychological research (the most recent of which is Torent 1983 “Thinking Symbols: A Critique of Sperber) Bloch suggests that “cognition is subjected to at least two extracultural factors” (113): the environment and neurological make-up of the mind. Other research, showing a dialect process of back-and-forth between experience and cognition, refutes Kant’s claim of cognition before action (114). Rather than using this to debunk key arguments of the anthro advocates, he argues that they are simply not talking about cognition, as they claim, but about “anthropological confections” (113).

                 It seems as though technology could be thought of as “the environment.” And if we say that this is true, and that through technology humans can reshape their environment, must we concede one more point to the cultural determinists? At the very least, I think it opens the door for human manipulation and very fundamental levels cognition. Consider the impact of mass media on our experience of the external world. On pages 117-118 he notes this aspect and attributes its exposition to Bourdieu Outline of a Theory of Practice. There are problems with this account, according to Bloch, the first being that culture inserted into elements in our environment “is clearly bound by the natural existence of those elements” (118) (He references Berlin and Kay’s study of color categorization to make this point). The second is that we could not have ideology and culture based upon an already cultured environment. I think Bourdieu’s reading still stands.


Additional points:

He writes later that ideology masquerades as cognition (130).

“The pre-requirement for the establishment of ideology turns out, in fact, to be a systematic and furious assault on non-ideological cognition” (129). So what does this say about our existing cognition? Is it the product of ideology, a remnant of this assault?


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice, translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

During this reading of Bourdieu I focused on his concept of The Official and The Practical. Bourdieu recognizes a drift in the public descriptions we give to our actions and the actions themselves, and terms these two forms official and practical definitions respectively (1977:33-38). His interest in not in calling such instances examples of dishonesty. Rather, he is interested in how and why we use these two definitions. Use in this instance is not limited to verbal articulation of a definition, but also refers to actions based upon a definition of a state of events.

What I find most useful is his discussion about “officializing” definitions. . He writes that the point of officializing a definition is to “transmute ‘egoistic’, private, particular interests into disinterested, collective, publicly avowable, legitimate interests” (1977:40). Groups can exercise power through officializing a definition because doing so “presupposes the competence required in order to manipulate the collective definition of the situation” (ibid). All those who define their situation in ways different from the official are “condemned to appear unreasonable in seeking to impose [their] private reason” (ibid). Further, by establishing rules for conduct, the official is strengthened by the dissidents, as they draw attention to the existence of the rules in their rejection. Key to all this of course, that which makes the first declaration officializing and the second a failure, is preexisting power structure, it seems. I wonder, what would happen were a student in theory class to proclaim a different understanding of a Beethoven piece than what was being taught?


Cacciari, Christina, Maria Chiara Levorato, and Piercarla Cicogna. 1997. “Imagination at Work: Conceptual and Lingustic Creativity in Children.” In Creative Thought: An Investigation of Conceptual Structures and Processes, eds. Thomas B. Ward, Steven M. Smith, and Jyotsna Vaid. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Study aims to discover if children’s capability for “imaginal activity…is constrained by and predictable on the basis of everyday categorization processes or whether children are able to go beyond the everyday world and imagine alternative scenarios” (145). The study showed that the children created new ideas based on “existing entities” (173). They compare their work to other studies on adults, and note no major differences.


Cone, Edward T. 1974. The Composer’s Voice. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cone’s study looks at Schubert’s Erlkönig. Cone (1974) suggests that compositions contain multiple voices or modes through which composers communicate. He calls these modes personas. In the case of Erlkönig, he claims that Schubert applies three personas: one vocal, one instrumental, and one a conglomerate of all musical elements. This is relevant to my study in that it suggests a plurality of epistemes within a single piece. It differs from how I see things in that the multiple personas always work to construct a complete whole, while I am interested in the possibility of perpetual conflict existing between the multiple understandings.


Crehan, Kate. 2002. Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

My reading focused on two topics in Gramsci’s thinking. On implicit and explicit conceptions of the world (115-119): Gramsci writes of thought and action as explicit and implicit views respectively. He seems to locate a groups true conception of reality in their actions, while their voiced thoughts contain the ideology imposed and expected by dominant classes in society. (This seems to fit Bourdieu’s notion of official and unofficial discourse. Also mention Bourdieu’s notion of Habitus: the system of meaning gained through practice, often opposed to consciousness and discourse). The seeds of opposing world-view can be found in a subaltern group’s actions, but when those views become voiced, dominant groups correct them. Gramsci thoughts on humans and nature (from SPN 352): We are in a complex of relations involving (1) ourselves, (2) other people, and (3) the environment. To change our personality, we change or reframe our relationship to other people or the environment. How the change to the environment occurs I am unsure: do we change the environment itself, or just our impression of it? He writes that we modify “the ensemble of relations (118; Gramsci’s emphasis), might this suggest the former. This is key to some questions of cognition raised in Bloch and McIntosh.

What role does cognition play in shaping personality? Does technology shape our environment as Gramsci sees it? If so, will changes in the technology we use change our personality, our cognition? Where do we locate cognitive processes in terms of Gramsci’s implicit and explicit? It seems obvious to place it in implicit as it may not always be voiced. On the other hand, those processes can be learned through various cultural institutions such as schools. Might this open them up to explicit modes of thinking? Further, has Gramsci indicated that, although explicit views can be corrected, implicit views, action can also be corrected, or just relegated to silence?


Crowder, Robert G., and Mark A. Pitt. 1992. “Research on Memory/Imagery for Musical Timbre.” In Audio Imagery, ed. Daniel Reisberg. Hillsdale, NJ:Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

                 Much research in music cognition points to the fact that timbre, rather than pitch, dynamics, etc., is the most salient feature of a sound in memory. This study looked to see if these results would be the same when working with musical imaging. The results were the same, suggesting perhaps that images of sounds are experienced in ways similar to experience of the actual sounds.


Davies, Stephen. 1994. Musical Understanding and Musical Kinds. In Philip Alperson (ed.) Musical Worlds. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Davies argues that musical understanding is gained when we understand why musical sounds are constructed as they are (1994:70). He contrasts this with simply knowing how sounds are combined, recognizing only basics such as similarity/dissimilarity. I disagree with his separation of basics of perception from understanding. After all, our most immediate perceptions of sound are shaped by our more global understanding. Thus the difference in our analysis of minute and global musical elements is only one of degree.


Deutsch, Diana, and John R. Pierce. 1992. “The Climate of Auditory Imagery and Music.” In Audio Imagery, ed. Daniel Reisberg. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

                 A historical review of literature on musical imagery. Notes that the topic has been neglected, something the authors attribute to conflict in methodology and concern between psychologists and musicologists. They argue, however, that computer savvy musicians are becoming more and more adept at illustrating their mental images, and this may provide scholars with good material for research.


DiMaggio, Paul. 1997. “Culture and Cognition.” Annual Review of Sociology 23:263-287.

                 This article seeks to yoke the divide between sociologists and cognitive scientists, noting in particular that cognitive psychology shares sociology’s emphasis on the Individual’s agency. At the same time, cognitive science argues that individual choices are strongly affected by schemata in a home society—a postulation not at odds with much social theory. DiMaggio also writes that both disciplines share an interest in fragmentation rather than coherence.


Fiske, Harold. 1996. Selected Theories of Music Perception. Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd.

What I find key in this book is his attention to the source of musical understanding. Does understanding emerge through properties inherent to the sound object itself? Or is it a product of the mind? Fiske is adamant in his advocating the latter. He writes that, whereas before philosophers saw musical thinking as a “copy” activity—as though our mental representations were unmodified reflections of The External, he and others are beginning to see musical thinking as a “construction” activity. This is significant for my study as, without an understanding of music located in the sound itself, musical understanding can take multiple forms.


Some neat quotes to keep around: “talk about music and you are talking about the musical mind; descriptions of music are descriptions of cognitive processing. A theory of music is a theory of musical thinking” (1996:138).


Giannakis, Kostas, and Matt Smith. 2001. “Imaging Soundscapes: Identifying Cognitive Associations between Auditory and Visual Dimensions.” In Musical Imagery, eds. Rolf Inge Godøy and Harald Jørgensen. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets and Zeitlinger.

                 This study looks for connection between sounds and the colors people associate with those sounds. Study performed on 24 people, mostly undergraduate music majors. The results show a correlation between loud sounds and high saturation, and high pitched tones and lighter colors. I wonder whether the subjects were making the associations based upon the language we use to describe these stimuli.


Synaesthesia: the translation of attributes from one sensory domain to another (163;citing Marks [1997]).


Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections From the Prison Notebooks. Hoare, Quintin and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (Eds.). London: Lawrence & Wishart.

“Various philosophies or conceptions of the world exist, and one always makes a choice between them. How is this choice made? Is it merely an intellectual event, or is it something more complex? And is it not frequently the case that there is a contradiction between one’s intellectual choice and one’s mode of conduct? Which therefore would be the real conception of the world: that logically affirmed as an intellectual choice? or that which emerges from the real activity of each man, which is implicit in his mode of action?” (1971:631).


Halpern, Andrea R. 1992. “Musical Aspects of Auditory Imagery.” In Audio Imagery, ed. Daniel Reisberg. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

This study looks to specify characteristics of auditory imagery. Despite a tendency towards serial processing (the need to think through the beginning of a piece in order to remember a section), imaging of sound functions in much the same way that performance does. The research shows, however, that trained musicians were able to create more vivid and dynamic representations.


Hampton, James A. 1997. “Emergent Attributes in Combined Concepts.” In Creative Thought: An Investigation of Conceptual Structures and Processes, eds. Thomas B. Ward, Steven M. Smith, and Jyotsna Vaid. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

When two concepts are combined to form something new, consider the term ice fishing, the eventual concept is more than just the sum of the elements. This “more” is what Hampton calls emergent attributes. The main benefit of this research, for me, is that it challenges notions of creativity as simply reconfiguration of existing material. I am not satisfied however, with stating only that new material arises through combination, where does it come from?


Hubbard, Timothy L., and Keiko Stoeckig. 1992. “The Representation of Pitch in Musical Images.” In Audio Imagery, ed. Daniel Reisberg. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

                 Musical imaging is more about past sensory experience than abstract knowledge of music. This study argues that pitch is represented in mental images through a complex of sensory memory.


Johnson, Mark J. 1987. The Body in the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Kaminsky, David (2005). "Hidden Traditions: Conceptualizing Swedish Folk Music in the Twenty-First Century." Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University.

My reading of Kaminsky focused on his use of Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia. He uses it with reference to the multiple and occasionally contradicting ways people understand the term “folk music.” Thus his use of heteroglossia focuses on talk about music. I am interested in the possibility of extending the concept of heteroglossia to address not just verbalization, but also frames of understanding. I wonder though, does Kaminsky see language as a direct representation of a frame of understanding? If the goal is understanding, however, I think we must concern ourselves with more than just language.


Kalakoski, Virpi. 2001. “Musical Imagery and Working Memory.” In Musical Imagery, eds. Rolf Inge Godøy and Harald Jørgensen. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets and Zeitlinger.

This study shows that the effects of musical imagery are somewhat predictable. It reviews research showing that mental imagery aids in tasks of reasoning and memory across visual and acoustic domains. Her point is not, however, that imagery works the same across sensory domains, but that music is a multi-modal experience—actual and imagined.


Kerman, Joseph. 1985. Musicology. London: Fontana.

Kerman argues that the emergence of music theory/analysis as a discipline was tied to furthering the interests of dominant classes in nineteenth-century Europe. I need to take a closer look at this book in the future.


Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

                 My reading of this book focused on Lakoff’s concept of idealized cognitive models. Idealized cognitive models are mental frameworks that give shape to our patterns of categorization, our understanding of prototypes, and our apprehension of meaning. For example, categories such as bachelor, which may seem to be classical (i.e. an all-or-nothing category) are actually highly qualified based on ICMs: it is an ICM positing “a human society with typically monogamous marriage, and a typical marriageable age” that tells us who, out of many types of unmarried adult men, can be called a bachelor (1987:70). It seems to me that musical knowledges function like ICMs: Our method for categorizing and organizing sound results a definition of music and how it works. If I am going to use ICMs it is important to note that the way Lakoff say it should be studied is by looking at its our use of its products, how we use categories. This will expose the ICM.


Lerdahl, Fred, and Ray Jackendoff. 1983. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Lerdahl and Jackendoff say that trained musicians possess multiple types of musical knowledge. While our most basic levels of understanding may be universal, our more advanced levels—our musical grammars—are more malleable. This is relevant to my study. I wonder, do these knowledges ever come into conflict with each other? If so, do we select one knowledge over the other? Why? It seems like Bakhtin’s concept heteroglossia would be useful in looking at such questions. Does the selection of one musical knowledge, or frame


Note that Lerdahl and Jackendoff define universals based upon their consistency in various musical grammars—thus there is no conflict between levels (1983:278). I will need to note my departing from this aspect of their theory should I reference it.


McIntosh, Janet S. 1997. ”Cognition and Power” Available online, Accessed March 21, 2008.

While the humanities deride cognitive science for its universalizing proclamations, McIntosh notes that those same critics do themselves ascribe a universal quality to human beings: power. She suggests that “humans as a species are innately susceptible to thinking in particular ways, and that these susceptibilities may be parasitized by local power formations and used in their service” (paragraph 1). McIntosh argues, citing research suggesting that we are predisposed to think in certain ways (paragraph 9-10), that certain ideologies might “fit” preexisting patterns of thought better than others. She addresses the question as to whether human cognition is an appropriate topic for studies of power relations. She writes that hegemony theories suggest power “leaves its traces in even the most minute experiences and practices of the oppressed” (paragraph 4). But how do social power and cognition interact? She writes that most hegemony theorists employ the “sponge theory” whereby our minds soak up our understood social context—a depiction serving the ruling class (paragraph 6). The problem is, sponge theory does not have much support from cognitive science, and was attacked starting with Chomsky in the 1950s (I am guessing that this came through his claim that the human mind had built-in parameters for grammar—correct!). McIntosh suggests that we should be open to the possibility that certain understandings are more automatic for the human mind than others, and thus, the understandings that the subaltern maintains may not be arbitrary impositions, but natural tendencies of the human mind.

But what the heck does that mean? Do we always favor the simplest explanations, understandings? I would like to see an example of a failed attempt at hegemony, one that asked the subordinate to see the world in a way counterintuitive to these cognitive preferences, that cannot be explained through some other means, perhaps more effectively. Nonetheless, I think this essay is relevant for the study of mental imagery as a medium for hegemonic struggle.


Marschark, Marc, John Warner, Roxann Thompson, and Charles Huffman. 1991. “Concreteness, Imagery, and Memory for Prose.” In Mental Images in Human Cognition, eds. Robert H. Logie and Michel Denis. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B. V.

                 A study where subjects were asked to image based on concrete and abstract information. The concrete information led to more useable images (i.e. images that were remembered). I am interested in how music could be perceived as being more or less concrete. It might be helpful to look at pedagogical techniques. If there is a more concrete way of thinking about music, teachers probably know it and use it.


Markman, Arthur B., Takashi Yamauchi, and Valerie S. Makin. 1997. “The Creation of New Concepts: A Multifaceted Approach to Category Learning.” In Creative Thought: An Investigation of Conceptual Structures and Processes, eds. Thomas B. Ward, Steven M. Smith, and Jyotsna Vaid. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

                 This is a study aimed a shifting research paradigms of categorization. Rather than viewing categorization as simply an exercise in comparison, these authors argue that we must ask why we are categorizing and to what purpose we will categorize. This stance assumes that the tasks at hand will dictate the way we categorize. It is an example of cognition in response to environment that could be seen in Gramsci.


McKay, Nicholas. 2007. “One for All and All for One: Voicing in Stravinsky’s Musical Theater.” Journal of Musical Meaning 5.

McKay turns to Stravinsky’s compositions to better understand the relationship between music and language. He seeks to answer a question from Edward Cone (1974)—“If music is a language, then who is speaking?” I am interested in this because of his use of the concept of heteroglossia. He uses the term mainly to describe the way in which a piece, or a composer through the piece, speaks to us. This often involves a combining of multiple voices—thus his referencing Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia. I wonder, is this the only way to use the term? McKay is highlighting language’s connection to music in that both deal with speaking. But are there other properties of language that exist in music domains/behaviors?


Raffman, Diana. 1993. Language, Music, and Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

                 Raffman (1993) investigates the potential of ineffable musical knowledge. She notes three types of ineffable musical knowledge: (1) “structural ineffability,” when listeners maintain mental representations of musical sound, but are unable to specify and elucidate those representations, (2) “feeling ineffability,” when musical knowledge is understood as itself experience and therefore impossible to communicate, and (3) “nuance ineffability,” when immediate and basic perceptions of musical sound are left uncategorized and are therefore unavailable to language. I think the second type of ineffable knowledge is significant to my study. Raffman writes, “Musical knowledge…is sensory-perceptual or experiential or felt knowledge.

                 Raffman’s study is also helpful through its connecting musical knowledge and language. She writes that like language, music requires “possession of psychological rules for apprehending that structure” (1993:41) She is not really talking about “music,” but rather musical understanding, knowledge, or theory—make sure you bring that out.


Richardson, John T. E. 1991. “Gender differences in Imagery, Cognition, and Memory.” In Mental Images in Human Cognition, eds. Robert H. Logie and Michel Denis. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B. V.

                 This chapter opens with a literature review, arguing that gender differences, and to a lesser extent sex differences, have been ignored in much literature in cognition. Noting that as access to another person’s mental images often comes via language, linguistic differences between genders will affect research methods. Richardson performs some experiments showing that females tend to use imagery less, but when they do so, it is more vivid and aids them more in memory tasks.


Robin, Frédérique, and Michel Denis. 1991. “Description of Perceived or Imagined Spatial Networks.” In Mental Images in Human Cognition, eds. Robert H. Logie and Michel Denis. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Publishers B. V.

This study looks at patterns of sequencing (which elements come first) in description. It emerges from a body of research suggesting that there are commonalities in the ways people chose describe objects. Earlier studies show that the path of description requiring the least amount of material be stored in working memory is often chosen first. This study also asks "whether descriptions of mental images exhibit similar regularities and sequencing as discourse describing objects" (143). Their thesis is that, because mental images and precepts are thought to function similarly (in cognition? see references on pg 143), our patterns of description between the two domains should not differ significantly. They conducted an experiment on 50 adults (they give no further information about these people). These people were asked to describe a network of different colored circles, first based on an image in front of them, and then from a mental image based upon something they had just seen (note the mental image was not constructed from a description). They were asked to start their description from one circle, but they had a choice as to which direction their description would go from there. Subjects chose the direction with the simplest configuration of circles (often straight lines, requiring only that one use the starting circle as a reference point) most often, with no significant variation between imagined and perceived description.

It is a shame that we do not get any personal information about the test participants. I would like to know if cultural differences affect the way the description proceeds. Along those lines, all of the simple lines emanate from the right of the original reference circle. Could tendencies in description have to do with direction, perhaps based on native language? In terms of musical description, I find it difficult to see this applying. Often we are instructed as to what elements of music are most important (harmony in the Western tradition), and I would assume we would base our description on that instruction, rather than on what we see as the simplest rout. Perhaps this should be investigated. Also, they write, "discourse can convey mental representations of objects which are temporarily (or permanently) absent from people's environments" (143). I wonder how we should treat the sound object in the case of musical description. (If you are going to reference the phenomenon of commonalities in sequencing, go to the primary sources referenced on page 141).


Rogers, Michael R. 2004. Teaching Approaches in Music Theory: An Overview of Pedagogical Philosophies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University.

                 Rogers urges teachers and students to avoid conflating description with analysis. He writes that “the goal of description…is to collect information,” where as “analysis seeks to answer how and why questions” (2004:74-75). I think he is reckless in setting up these distinctions. And he is not the only one. This could be a nice starter to a discussion on the role of analytical thinking in descriptive acts.


Rowell, Lewis. 2001. “The Musical Imagery of India.” In Musical Imagery, eds. Rolf Inge Godøy and Harald Jørgensen. Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets and Zeitlinger.

Rowell focused his study on India to understand the possible affects oral transmission of music may have on musical imagery. He claims that there imagery is different from that common in the West. One interesting observation is that many Indian musicians described the imagery is being inside, rather than outside of themselves, something he connects to the lack of notation in the music culture. While I think the methodology is questionable, the implications—that technology like notation affects imagery—are important to note.


Serafine, Mary Louise. 1988. Music as Cognition: The Development of Thought in Sound. New York: Columbia University Press.

Serafine argues that, in the West, the categories used to describe and analyze music play a marginal role in listening experience (1988:7). Serafine claims that music notation caused the disconnect between the categories we hear and the categories we use to analyze. Scales and chords, two musical elements best represented in Western notation, are also the elements most often used in formal and casual analysis (1988:42-67). In one respect, this corroborates a claim made by Fiske that we create musical understanding—i.e. it is not to be found in the sound object itself. But it also deemphasizes the importance of our creation, and suggests the existence of more and less truthful accounts of music. She claims, however, that this mistaken account comes from applying the categories derived from musical notation to musical sound. This is important. It suggests that musical experience and thinking can take place in one sensory mode, and we may still attribute such understanding to another. This opens the door for claiming a plurality of musical understandings, understandings that develop through multiple sensory modes, though whose origin may be less than fully conscious to listeners.


Also, on page 40 she writes, “the activities of ‘chunking’ music into pieces, forming coherent units or lines, and transforming musical material can give rise to a variety of stylistic manifestations.” Thus basic perceptual processes are variable and significant in forming more global musical understanding and production.


Theberge, Paul. 1997. Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England (for Wesleyan University Press).

Theberge sees technology as central in guiding social organization and fostering creativity. However, he argues that technologies’ conception, use, and meaning all stem from social factors and are politically charged. He discusses the ways musical instruments can provide a conceptual framework for musical thought, drawing on Bourdieu’s notion of habitus to suggest that there is a fundamental difference between knowledge gain through practices verses knowledge gained through discourse and mediated communication. In contrast, he then proceeds to show how musical instruments, such as the monochord, emerged as physical manifestations of existing frameworks. Later in the paper, he makes a similar point when discussing music notation—showing how music notation guided compositional practices in Western art music, but how its ultimate effect was contingent upon external social forces. A discussion in the heart of the paper, arguing for a unified view of instrument, body, and practice, further distances Theberge from technological determinism.


“the origin and the significance of most scales and tuning systems are usually found in musical practice, not in abstract sciences” (1997:163).


Theberge’s term “conceptual infrastructure (1997:166)” seems to correlate with Lakoff’s ICM.