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Our Perceptions of Music: Why Does the Theme From Jaws Sound Like a Big, Scary Shark?

OCTOBER 24, 2003

Dr. Bob Duke

Center for Music Learning
The University of Texas at Austin


Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi

Center for Music Learning
The University of Texas at Austin



What is the talk about?

The perception of music is a remarkable phenomenon that enriches our lives nearly every day. Deeply imbedded in our own culture, music is a part of all known human societies. Yet, questions about the nature of musical expression—its biological basis, its evolutionary history, its effects on human physiology and emotion—remain topics of interest in the disciplines that investigate the human experience. Music requires production, transmission, reception, processing, and interpretation of organized sounds. Although the physical components of this process are well understood, the cognitive components are less clearly characterized. Ever since Darwin wrote that human faculties for music “must be ranked among the most mysterious with which [man] is endowed,” scientists have sought to explain this resplendently diverse and powerful medium of human communication. In this lecture, which comprises a brief tour of the physics, physiology, and psychology of music, we review some of the basic elements of music in relation to human perception, and we include examples of music repertoire from a variety of idioms.

About our presenters

Dr. Bob Duke

Dr. Bob Duke

Dr. Bob Duke is the Marlene and Morton Meyerson Centennial Professor of Music and Human Learning, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Director of the Center for Music Learning. Widely published in music and education, he has directed national research efforts under the sponsorship of such organizations as the National Piano Foundation and the International Suzuki Institute. His work has been presented at national and international conferences in music education, music therapy, and music psychology, and appears in major research journals and texts. Dr. Duke serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Research in Music Education, the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, and Psychomusicology. A former studio musician and public school music teacher, he has worked closely with children at-risk, both in the public schools and through the juvenile court system, and he remains an active clinician and researcher in music learning, systematic observation and evaluation, and behavior management, presenting lectures and teaching demonstrations throughout the United States.



Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi

Dr. Eugenia Costa-Giomi

Dr. Costa-Giomi teaches research methods in music education, psychology of music, and musical development. Her research focuses on music perception and cognition during childhood, the nonmusical benefits of music instruction, and the relationship between specific abilities and behaviors and musical achievement. She chaired the third International Conference in Music Perception and Cognition with Dr. Pennycook (1996), the 13th Symposium for Research in Music Behavior (1999), the Music Perception Interest Group of the Music Educators National Association (1998), is part of the editorial committees of the Journal of Research in Music Education and Musicae Scientiae, and past member of the editorial board of the Bulletin of the Music College Symposium. She has taught music to children in Argentina, Mexico, Canada, and the United States and was Associate Professor of Music Education at McGill University, Canada (1991-2002).