Practical Application of Psychology In Music

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  • Practical Advice for Musicians
  • Grounded in Current Research
  • Videos and Articles

About Psychology In Music

Psychology in Music investigates music techniques used by musicians and composers, demonstrated using short videos and articles.  As a professional musician, I am interested in the link between the what and the why in music.  My doctoral study has allowed me to explore music using psychology as tool, and in particular, cognition in music.

I have noticed that some great songwriters and producers use techniques that can be explained using psychology. Understanding how musical techniques effect the listener, helps my own relationship with music, as a player and composer.

I will be looking at tunes by artists such as Alicia Keys, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen to name but a few, and asking questions such as:

  • What devices can we use, as musicians, that help grab the attention of a listener, and why do they work?
  • What are the pros and cons of creating music using repetition?
  • How can a ‘wrong’ note be used to create interest?
  • How does a sense of expectation influence listener value judgments?

This site is great for musicians who want to improve and deepen their songwriting skills, and appreciation of music. Even though individual experiences may differ, there is often still an essence of commonality. All of the techniques on the website are grounded in current research.

I am passionate and fascinated by psychology in music, and I welcome questions and comments from peers. If you like what you see here please subscribe below.

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‘I have noted that there are different expressions of surprise and that these expressions echo the primordial behaviours of fight, flight and freeze. Musical surprises are capable of initiating these responses, but the responses themselves are short-lived because an ensuing appraisal ultimately judges the stimuli as nonthreatening… Instead, the listener is left with a corresponding response of frisson, laughter, or awe… the pleasure associated with these responses arises from limbic contrast – a phenomenon I’ve called contrastive valence. Pleasure is increased when a positive response follows a negative response. While surprise is biologically bad, surprise nevertheless plays a pivotal role in human emotional experience’.Huron, 2006, Sweet Anticipation

About the Author

Dr. Mark Baynes is an award winning pianist and composer, living in Auckland, New Zealand. Mark’s doctoral research focused on developing an analytical model used to understand music in terms of consonance and dissonance (also known as tension/release, stable/unstable, home/away etc.), often found in Western tonal music. His analytical model addresses aspects pertaining to melody, harmony, rhythm, organic unity and genre. Mark is committed to practical development of cognitive and psychological research found in the performance of music. His analytical model is innovative and is a powerful method for understanding (and prescribing) improvisation and composition, including perceived motivation in music. For information on Mark’s performances please visit www.jazzpiano.co.nz. For information on Mark’s recording studio and collection of vintage keyboard instruments please visit www.vintagekeystudios.com.


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