In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Perception of Musical Tones
  • Absolute Pitch
  • Perceptual Grouping in Music
  • Music and Emotion
  • Developmental Origins of Musicality
  • Musical Processing in Nonhuman Species
  • Cross-Cultural Studies of Music
  • Music and the Brain
  • The Processing of Pitch Structures
  • Rhythm and Timing
  • Music Performance

Psychology Music
Diana Deutsch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0065


The psychology of music seeks to interpret musical phenomena in terms of mental function; that is, it seeks to characterize the ways in which people perceive, remember, perform, create, and respond to music. While centered on the empirical findings and theoretical approaches of psychology, the field is highly interdisciplinary, with input from neuroscientists, linguists, geneticists, computational modelers, physicists, anthropologists, music theorists, music performers, and composers. While the study of music has a long history, dating from the ancient Greeks, the psychology of music as an empirical science did not emerge as a full-fledged discipline until the second part of the 20th century. During the last few decades the field has advanced rapidly, and it interfaces strongly with other branches of psychology, such as the studies of perception, cognition, performance, human development, personality psychology, psycholinguistics, clinical neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology, ability testing, and artificial intelligence.

General Overviews

Two edited handbooks, Hallam, et al. 2009 and Deutsch 2013, provide authoritative, up-to-date, and detailed overviews of the psychology of music; these are particularly appropriate for researchers and graduate students. Thompson 2008, an undergraduate textbook, has excellent coverage. The collection of writings in Sloboda 2005 is broad in scope and it can also be used as a textbook. Other books that emphasize particular aspects of music psychology but are also general in scope include Huron 2006, which emphasizes cognitive and evolutionary aspects, and Patel 2008 (cited under Musical Processing in Nonhuman Species), which emphasizes relationships between music and language. Among the many introductory books on the subject written for a general audience, Ball 2010 provides a highly readable and yet authoritative review of the field, Sacks 2007 serves as an engrossing introduction to the field through case studies by a practicing neurologist, and Levitin 2006 provides an entertaining introduction for casual readers.

  • Ball, P. 2010. The music instinct: How music works and why we can’t do without it. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Well and clearly written for a general audience, and without requiring specialized knowledge, the book serves as an admirable introduction to the field. Questions addressed include why all human cultures have music, why music excites rich emotion, and how we make sense of musical sound.

  • Deutsch, D., ed. 2013. The psychology of music. 3d ed. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

    This classic and thoroughly updated handbook is geared toward researchers and graduate students. Written by world-renowned experts, its coverage includes perception of musical tones, timbre, intervals, scales, absolute pitch, grouping mechanisms, perception of tonal structures, rhythm, computational models, performance, musical development, music and cognitive ability, music and emotion, and neurological substrates.

  • Hallam, S., I. Cross, and M. Thaut, eds. 2009. The Oxford handbook of music psychology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Written by world-renowned experts, this handbook is geared toward researchers and graduate students. It covers the origins and functions of music, music perception, responses to music, neurological substrates, musical development, acquisition of musical skills, performance, composition and improvisation, music in everyday life, music therapy, and methodological considerations.

  • Huron, D. 2006. Sweet anticipation: Music and the psychology of expectation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This book draws on findings in cognitive psychology, evolutionary theory, statistical learning theory, and studies of emotion to explore the role of expectation in listening to music. Well and clearly written by a music theorist with a strong knowledge of psychology, it can serve as an introduction to the field for graduate students and undergraduates.

  • Levitin, D. J. 2006. This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession. New York: Dutton.

    Written for a general audience, and without requiring specialized knowledge, this book serves as an entertaining introduction to the field.

  • Sacks, O. 2007. Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. New York: Knopf.

    This book examines the effects of music through descriptions of musicians, patients, and others, describing a variety of unusual musical abilities, disabilities, and syndromes. Geared toward a general audience, the book does not require specialized knowledge, and it serves as an inspiring introduction to the psychology of music.

  • Sloboda, J. 2005. Exploring the musical mind: Cognition, emotion, ability, function. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The book brings together twenty-four selected essays by a renowned expert on music and the mind. It covers cognitive processes, emotion and motivation, musical talent and skill, and music in everyday life. Given its broad coverage, the book can serve as a textbook on the psychology of music.

  • Thompson, W. F. 2008. Music, thought and feeling: Understanding the psychology of music. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Written in a clear, engaging style, this textbook covers the origins of music, the building blocks of music, perception, perception of musical structure, music and emotion, neurological substrates, performance, composition, and relationships between music and other abilities. See also Ball 2010.

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