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AMPS: Past Seminar Series

Past Seminar Series

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2010 Seminar Series

Music in our lives: rethinking musical development, ability and identity
Speaker : Professor Gary McPherson
Date :25th Mar


Music in Our Lives documents the musical journeys of three groups of learners I have studied during the past 14 years: 157 Australian children whose musical training has been traced from before they began instruments aged 7 and 8 and who have now left school and are currently working or studying at university (the co-investigator for this project is Jane Davidson), a group of 50 of the most highly involved and talented high school students in the state of Illinois (USA) who are involved in music either in or outside of school, and an 12 year old pianist whom I first met in Hong Kong when she had just turned 7 and who is now on a full scholarship at the Julliard School in New York. Each of these studies offers new insight into the nature of musical development, ability and identity. The earlier work I have published with Jane Davidson, James Renwick and John McCormick has examined key components of musical development such as socio-contextual issues, musical skills and learning processes, and intrapersonal factors, using various theoretical explanations: the expertise model, self-regulation, expectancy-value motivational beliefs, self determination and psychological needs (in addition to other psychological explanations).

My presentation will revisit the above work in light of a new holistic, contextualised theory that I am developing with Jane Davidson and Robert Faulkner for an OUP publication that celebrates the diversity of musical behaviour in young people¹s lives. My presentation will call for a reassessment of conceptions about the development of musical ability and identity, question the notion that musical development is typically balanced, sequenced, orderly, and regulated; illustrate the spatial,temporal and pluralistic nature of musical identities and their flexible application to social life and impact on musical development; and provide examples of the artful ways in which young people resist simplistic stereotypical profiles often imposed on accounts of their musical lives. Byupdating and redefining current conceptions my presentation will reconcile a number of theoretical explanations into a conception that can be used to frame future practice and research in music as well as other related disciplines.

Music therapy research with severe mental illness. Progress reports on 3 studies and some of the major issues
Speaker : Professor Denise Grocke
Date :22nd Apr


Professor Denise Grocke is the Head of Music Therapy and Director of the National Music Therapy Research Unit (NaMTRU), School of Music (Parkville). She is co-author of Receptive Methods in Music Therapy (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007), and co-editor of Guided Imagery and Music (Barcelona Publishers, 2002). She was President of the World Federation of Music Therapy (1999-2002), and has twice been President of the Australian Music Therapy Association. Denise Grocke's research interests are in music therapy and people with severe and enduring mental illness, and in collaboration with Profs Bloch and Castle at St Vincent's Hospital, a pilot study completed in 2007 has formed the basis for a randomised controlled trial, funded by the ARC, which is currently recruiting participants. This study investigates group music therapy, specifically song-writing and quality of life. The second study is a multi-site international trial in collaboration with the University of Bergen and Sunshine Hospital, and investigates the effect of resource-oriented music therapy on negative symptoms of mental illness. These studies will form the basis of the presentation.

Vocal tract resonances in speech, singing and playing musical instruments
Speaker : Professor Joe Wolfe
Date :20th May


In some ways, we are all experts at manipulating vocal tract resonances: we vary the shape of mouth and tongue, deftly changing the frequencies of the resonances, thereby selectively boosting bands of the voice spectrum and thus producing different speech sounds. Over recent decades, there have been various and occasionally conflicting suggestions about how wind instrument players and singers might exploit these resonances in performance. One of the specialities of our lab is measuring vocal tract resonances and we have been able to give clear answers in some cases, which will be discussed in this non-technical talk.

In reed and brass instruments, the tract (upstream) and the bore (downstream) of the instrument act together on the reed or lips (acoustically, they are in series). In some cases, the vocal tract can dominate the combination and select the operating pitch, a situation used by saxophonists to play the altissimo register, and by clarinettists to achieve the glissandi and pitch bending in, for example, Rhapsody in Blue or klezma playing. In the didjeridu, the player uses the tract resonances to vary the spectrum of the output sound. The variations necessitated by 'circular breathing' produce the characteristic rhythmic variations in timbre and a range of other interactions are also used in performance.

In singing, tract resonances fall at frequencies well above the fundamental frequency for many vowel-pitch combinations. For high voices, however, trained and some untrained singers tune one of the resonances to boost the fundamental or, in some cases, the second harmonic of the voice. For the very highest soprano range, above high C, it appears that the singing range is sometimes limited by the limits of resonance tuning.

Absolute pitch and calendrical calculation in Asperger Syndrome: A case study
Speaker : Ms Loretta Greco
Date :24th Jun
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Asperger Syndrome is a developmental disorder which often involves special abilities that appear to be well above the individual’s expected level of functioning. These abilities have become known as ‘savant skills’, and occur in domains such as music, mathematics, memory and drawing. The central coherence model has been proposed as a cognitive mechanism that might account for the presence of savant skills in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Central coherence refers to the tendency to integrate local features to construct higher level meaning and global context. It has been proposed that in Autism Spectrum Disorders these skills are weak, leading to ‘piecemeal processing’ or a preference toward individual elements, without consideration of global context. A limitation of the central coherence model is that it lacks biological specificity. The Object-Attribute model proposes a theory of auditory information processing that provides specific neurobiological detail to test the central coherence model. Interestingly, the central coherence model has not been directly evaluated in savant samples, which is the main aim of the present study.

This study presents a case report on RB, a 23 year old male with Asperger Syndrome and congenital blindness who possesses two savant skills; absolute pitch and calendrical calculation, RB undertook a range of tasks to (i) thoroughly characterise his areas of skill and his musical and mathematical aptitude, and (ii) measure strength of central coherence through established measures and novel experimental tasks. Results were compared with a control group of five congenitally blind males. Findings on experimental tasks provide little evidence for a weakness in central coherence. Furthermore, thorough investigation of his abilities in various cognitive domains revealed few weaknesses in his profile that would suggest a common underlying mechanism for his savant skills. These results are in conflict with previous suggestions that savant skill occurs in the context of patterns of cognitive weakness, and argues against the notion of a savant skill representing an ‘island of genius’ in the context of intellectual disability.

Two presentations: (1) The Music USE (MUSE) Questionnaire: An Instrument to Measure Engagement in Music / (2) The influence of music on memory for images
Speaker : Ms Tan Chyuan Chin & Ms Sherilene Carr
Date :5th Aug
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Presentation 1 title: The Music USE (MUSE) Questionnaire: An Instrument to Measure Engagement in Music

Presenter: Ms Tan Chyuan, PhD candidate, School of Psychology & Psychiatry, Monash University

Research on the psychological benefits of music has been largely limited to comparisons between musicians and non-musicians, with this distinction being further limited to years of ‘formal music training’. We argue here that active music engagement should go beyond years of formal music training, to include performing (instrumental playing) and non-performing (listening) music activities, to provide a more meaningful interpretation and application of music research findings. We introduce the MUSE (Music USE) questionnaire, an online self-report measure of active music engagement, with three dimensions of musicality (music training, instrumental use and various forms of music engagement).

Presentation 2 title: The influence of music on memory for images

Presenter: Ms Sherilene Carr, PhD candidate, School of Psychology & Psychiatry, Monash University

It is unclear what effect music may have on our ability to process information. There is growing evidence that enjoyed music facilitates spatial temporal reasoning, and arousing music can facilitate learning and memory (depending on personality and timing of music exposure). The aim of this study was to test the effect of music, controlled in terms of enjoyment and arousal, on memory for images. Personality differences were measured using the behavioural inhibition/activation inventory (BIS/BAS). Results support the hypothesis that music induced arousal facilitates memory, and that high scores on the 'BAS reward motivation' scale moderates the effect. No music enjoyment memory effects were found. Findings are discussed in terms of the effects of music induced reward and arousal on memory.

Special Public Lecture: “Why do all the Songs Sound the Same? Insights from Congenital Amusia”
Speaker : Dr Lauren Stewart
Date :16th Sep
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The ability to make sense of musical sound has been observed in every culture since the beginning of recorded history. In early infancy, it allows us to respond to the sing-song interactions from a primary caregiver and to engage in musical play. In later life it shapes our social and cultural identities and modulates our affective and emotional states. But a few percent of the population fail to develop the ability to make sense of or engage with music. Individuals with congenital amusia (CA) cannot recognize familiar tunes, cannot tell one tune from another, frequently complain that music sounds like a "din" and avoid the many social situations in which music plays a role.

In this talk I will present data from perceptual experiments suggesting that individuals with amusia are insensitive to pitch direction and are unable to retain pitch information in memory. In addition, I will discuss ongoing genetic and neuroimaging approaches that we are using to characterize this disorder.

The study of disordered musical development sets in sharp relief the perceptual and cognitive abilities which most of us take for granted and give us a unique chance to investigate how musical perceptual ability develops, from the level of the gene to the brain development and the emergence of a complex and fundamental aspect of human behaviour.

Lauren Stewart is senior lecturer in the department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London where she directs a research group and MSc programme in Music, Mind and Brain. Her current research interests range from studying those with congenital amusia who have an inability to make sense of musical sound to studying the acquisition of perceptual, cognitive and motor skills in trained musicians. Lauren originally studied Physiological Sciences at Balliol College Oxford, but transferred from bodies to brains with an MSc in Neuroscience and doctoral and postdoctoral training at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience (both University College London) and Harvard Medical School. In 2009 she was awarded the Experimental Psychology Society Prize for distinguished research achievement at an early career stage. She has published widely on the cognitve neuroscience of music, for academic and non-academic audiences alike. She is associate editor of the journal, Psychomusicology.

Musical beauty and imagination
Speaker : Prof David Hargreaves, Roehampton University, London
Date :27th Oct


What is beauty, and how do people perceive it in music? My colleagues and I adopted a social psychological approach to this question in proposing reciprocal-feedback models of musical response and performance (Hargreaves et al 2005, 2006), in which their different components are determined by three-way interactions between the properties of the music, the listener, and the listening situation. There is a predominance of studies of musical creativity in the psychological and educational literature, and I suggest that this term has become so widely used and abused that it has lost a lot of its validity, and become little more than a general term of approbation, meaning approximately ‘good’. I propose that we should reorient the study of musical invention around the concept of musical imagination, since this includes the perception as well as the production of music: listening to music is just as active and inventive an activity as are performance, composition and improvisation. I shall look at the neuroscientific evidence that there may be an identifiable neural basis for musical imagination, and consider the theoretical and practical implications of this question. I conclude, following Aaron Copland (1952), that ‘it is the freely imaginative mind that is at the core of all vital music making and music listening….Imagination in the listener…is what concerns us here’.

David Hargreaves is Professor of Education, Froebel Research Fellow and Director of CIRCLE (Centre for International Research on Creativity and Learning in Education) at Roehampton University in London.

He has a distinguished research profile in developmental psychology and arts eduction, with a special interest in music. He is currently on the editorial boards of 8 journals in psychology, music and education, and is widely published in this field.

We are honoured to have David visiting us this October, and presenting a seminar jointly hosted by the Australian Music & Psychology Society (AMPS) and the University of Melbourne's Centre for Music, Mind and Well-Being.

Music as Communication: Finding Your Voice
Speaker : A/Prof Sarah Wilson
Date :25th Nov


Vocal singing (singing with lyrics) shares features common to music and
language but it is not clear to what extent they use the same brain systems,
particularly at the higher cortical level, and how this varies with
expertise. This talk will present data from a recent study investigating
participants of varying singing ability using two functional imaging tasks.
The first examined covert generative language using orthographic lexical
retrieval while the second required covert vocal singing of a well-known
song. The neural networks subserving covert vocal singing and language were
found to be proximally located, and their extent of cortical overlap varied
with singing expertise. Nonexpert singers showed greater engagement of their
language network during vocal singing, likely accounting for their less
tuneful performance. In contrast, expert singers showed a more unilateral
pattern of activation associated with reduced engagement of the right
frontal lobe. The findings indicate that singing expertise promotes
independence from the language network with decoupling producing more
tuneful performance. This means that the age-old singing practice of
Œfinding your singing voice¹ may be neurologically mediated by changing how
strongly singing is coupled to the language system.

Sarah Wilson is an Associate Professor & Reader in Psychological Sciences at
The University of Melbourne, and the Director of Neuropsychological Research
in the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at the Austin hospital. She is also an
Adjunct Senior Fellow in the Department of Medicine at The University of
Melbourne, and Co-Head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Division at the Florey
Neuroscience Institutes. She is current President of the Australian Music &
Psychology Society (AMPS), Director of the Centre for Music, Mind and
Wellbeing (CMMW) at The University of Melbourne, and is an Associate Editor
of the newly formed journal 'Frontiers in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience'.

Sarah Wilson has established two successful research programs that advance
the study of brain and behaviour in: (i) behavioural neuroscience, with a
specialty in music neurocognition, and (ii) clinical neuropsychology, with a
specialty in epilepsy. She is one of a small number of international
researchers with expertise both in cognitive auditory neuroscience and music
research, and the only specialist music neuropsychologist in Australia. To
support her research programs she has been successful in attracting over $2
million in funding that has allowed her to establish the first structural
and functional music neuroimaging program in Australia.