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Musicae Scientiae


Dorothy Miell, Raymond MacDonald and David J. Hargreaves (Editors), Musical

Communication . Oxford University Press, 2005, 422 pp. ISBN 0-19-852935X
Alexandra Lamont
Musicae Scientiae 2006 10: 278
DOI: 10.1177/102986490601000208

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What is This?
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• Dorothy Miell, Raymond MacDonald and David J. Hargreaves (Editors),
M u s i c a l C o m m u n i c a t i o n . Oxford University Press, 2005, 422 pp.
ISBN 0-19-852935X

Starting from familiar arguments about the ubiquity of music in everyday life
and the diversification of musical behaviour, this book explores a range of
issues related to musical communication. The approach is explicitly and markedly
multidisciplinary. The editors position themselves and their arguments firmly
within the psychology of music and their own chapters draw on mainstream
psychological concepts, yet the contributors come from and speak to a far wider
range of perspectives including neuroscience, music theory, music education, music
therapy, media studies and ethnomusicology. Five key questions are posed at the out-
set: how people use music to communicate, why people communicate using music,
what is communicated, who the communicators and recipients of musical meaning
are, and where musical communication takes place. The book does not aim to pro-
vide clear answers to all five questions, but they set the terms of reference for what
The first chapter (by David Hargreaves, Raymond MacDonald and Dorothy
Miell) also sets a broad theoretical context for the book by delineating a new model
of musical communication that attempts to account for both performer and listener
in context. Since this is perhaps one of the most important contributions of the
book, the model merits close attention. It combines two separate reciprocal feed-
back models of musical performance and musical response, both of which spec-
ify properties of the music, the situations and contexts, and the individuals (the
performer, composer or listener) that are involved in determining the performance
or the response. There are subtle differences between the performance and response
models, but it is possible to summarise the general features they share. Musical
features include the notion of a reference system (genres, idioms etc.), so-called
collative variables (complexity, familiarity), prototypicality, and the context of
performance (live, recorded). Situations and contexts are defined as social and cultural
contexts, everyday situations, the presence or absence of others, and “other”
ongoing activities. Individuals are characterised in terms of individual differences
(gender, age, personality) as well as musical knowledge, preference and taste, self
theories of musical identity, and for the composer/performer, expressive intentions
and motivations. The listener’s response to the music is also affected by physiological
(engagement, arousal, active listening), cognitive (attention, expectation, discrimination)
and affective (emotional, mood, liking) factors. The performance itself is identified
as a separate factor from the situations and contexts of performance.
In both models, all these factors — musical, situational and personal — interact
with one another in a causal manner. The two models are combined to produce a
third reciprocal feedback model of musical communication linking the performance

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Book reviews

to the response, and musical communication is defined as “the ‘spark’ which occurs
when the performance event gives rise to a response” (p.18). This final model, as
the authors acknowledge, remains in the tradition of linear “transmission” models
of communication such as Shannon and Weaver’s original model, and it also
depends on a conceptual distinction between performance and response.
However, many of the other contributors adopt somewhat different approach-
es to musical communication. The 18 chapters which make up the rest of the book
cover a range of different topics, and each provide their own definitions of musical
communication in relation to their interests. Although Hargreaves, MacDonald and
Miell claim it is the specific link between the performance event and the response,
Patrik Juslin argues that an exhaustive study of communication of emotion in music
also has to account for the composer or performer’s intention to express a specific
concept and the listener’s recognition of that concept. Keith Sawyer argues that
communication is “an emergent property of social groups in complex interactions”
(p. 57), and this approach is shared by Margaret Barrett in her exploration of
children’s musical communities of practice and by Gary Ansdell and Mercedes
Pavlicevic in their chapter on music therapy. Both Sawyer and Susan Young focus
on musical communication as detailed two-way interactions, in improvisers and
between adults and young children respectively, while more “faceless” kinds of
musical communication are covered by Scott Lipscomb and David Tolchinsky
(music in cinema) and Adrian North and David Hargreaves (music in commercial
Some of the chapters focus on communication through music, emphasising this
in the short term (e.g. Juslin’s exposition of the communication of emotion) or in
the long term (e.g. Ian Cross’s consideration of music in evolution). Others focus on
processes of musical communication, such as Sawyer’s evaluation of improvisation
(a real-time interactive process) or Barrett’s exploration of children’s invented music
notations (enabling communication over longer timespans). There is an obvious yet
unstated parallel here with the distinction drawn between identities in music and
musical identities in the preceding volume from the same editors (MacDonald,
Hargreaves and Miell, 2002), and this might have brought a greater coherence to the
collection than the given subheadings of Cognition, Representation and Communication;
Embodied Communication; Communication in Learning and Education; and Cultural Contexts
of Communication. The final section reflects the strategy of Hargreaves, MacDonald
and Miell’s initial model by treating “context” as a separate and separable issue —
rather predictably this section includes chapters on pop music (Janis McNair and
John Powles’ consideration of politics and pop music) and non-Western music
(Martin Clayton’s analysis of Indian raga performance) which could have been
placed elsewhere (Clayton’s emphasis on the body has much in common with Jane
Davidson’s chapter on performance in the Embodied Communication section, for


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In his chapter on the communication of emotion, Juslin summarises a wealth
of evidence that performers, composers and listeners all conceive of music as
communication. The questions of what is being communicated, and how we can study
this, are however more intractable. One approach places the emphasis on intrinsic
musical content which is to be transmitted from composer/performer to listener,
deriving from Hanslick’s aesthetics and reflected in later work such as Cooke’s The
Language of Music. The key to communication from this perspective lies in the
properties of the music. Juslin provides an example of this by listing a set of musi-
cal features which have been found to correlate with discrete emotions in musical
expression (for example, fear being characterised by fast tempo, large tempo vari-
ability, minor mode, dissonance, low sound level, large sound level variability, rapid
changes in sound level, high pitch, ascending pitch and so on).
Yet much of this book is focused on broader concerns than the purely musical.
This reflects a more moderate adoption of the extreme position advanced by Goehr
(1993) that listeners make what they will of music, and therefore the “what” of
communication should be located exclusively in the concerns, needs, and desires of
the listener. There are a number of “interactionist” approaches represented here
which argue that what is being communicated is partly a function of the listener.
Hargreaves, MacDonald and Miell’s models argue for interactions between a number
of variables, and Annabel Cohen also outlines a neat set of biological constraints on
music perception which reflect the interplay between music and listener. Juslin takes
the interactionist approach further with multiple regression techniques attempting to
assign weights to particular variables in his model of communication of emotion,
and he also includes context as a variable in his agenda for future research.
In a different vein, other authors (including both Cross and Sawyer) ally
themselves more with theoretical beliefs that broadly reflect a socio-cultural
approach to understanding how the social both constructs and is constructed by
individuals. Culture here is seen as a medium rather than a variable (cf. Cole, 1996).
Cross’s notion of “floating intentionality” is central in this respect: he argues that
music “can be thought of as gathering meaning from the contexts within which it
happens and in turn contributing meaning to those contexts” (p. 30). The current
shift of emphasis in psychology of music towards a more cultural, critical and social
constructionist approach is also represented here by insightful interpretations of the
detailed processes of musical communication. These include chapters by Jane
Davidson (on bodily communication in performance), Margaret Barrett (on chil-
dren’s communities of musical practice) and Raymond MacDonald, Dorothy Miell
and Graeme Wilson (on talk about music and identity development).
As well as divergent theoretical perspectives, the book also presents a plethora of
formal diagrammatic models of musical communication alongside Hargreaves et al.’s
model of the interrelations between listener and performer/composer discussed
above. Cohen reproduces the Shannon-Weaver transmission model, and presents
her own Plasticity Framework of Music Grammar Acquisition. Juslin models the


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Book reviews

chain of musical communication of emotion as well as his Extended Lens Model of

musical communication of emotions. Welch includes his modified version of Peretz
and Coltheart’s Modular Model of Music Processing in Singing and also models the
foetal emotional response to sound. Byrne presents a conceptual Model of
Interaction for Teaching and Learning in the Music Classroom. Finally Lipscomb
and Tolchinsky present Kendall and Carterette’s Model of Music Communication
and Cohen’s Congruence-Associationist Framework for Understanding Film Music
The introductory chapter sets a certain agenda for the rest of the book which
includes a great deal of argument for and against the principles of information
theory and transmission models of musical communication. The presentation of
ten different models of musical communication at various points seems likely to
lead to some confusion. This exemplifies perhaps the most important limitation of
this book: as the editors rightly state in their introduction, there is no attempt
here to evaluate the relative importance or success of any given field, approach or
topic to the issue of musical communication. Even within psychology, the dif-
ferent perspectives reflected here can be viewed as mutually exclusive, and yet the
role of evaluating and comparing is left to the reader. Therefore the impression
gained from this book will be largely dependent on readers’ prior epistemological
perspectives and personal research preferences.
Those readers who do subscribe to the notion that musical communication can
be modelled are not given enough support to be in a position to evaluate the
relative efficacy of the models presented. In my view, the more successful chapters
are those that refrain from presenting complex models but attempt to explain
complexity discursively. For example, Cross explains the fundamental importance of
culture without attempting to draw a picture of how it interrelates, and similarly
Sawyer’s arguments for collaborative emergence (a complex system in which the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts) could have lost some of their force if they
had been represented graphically. Some aspects of musical communication lend
themselves more easily to visual representation, but the fundamental problem
with attempting to model a process visually is that it rapidly becomes linear and
teleological, and therefore is too easily constrained by an outdated simple transmission
Psychology as a discipline has a great deal to offer the study of communication,
and therefore by extension psychology of music (including aspects of music
theory, music education and music therapy) has much to say about musical com-
munication. However, other fields such as sociology and communication studies have
been arguing over these issues for longer and with greater emphasis on the social
and human dimensions. To give a few examples, key articles include the influential
“encoding/decoding” model of communication developed by Stuart Hall (1980),
the detailed analysis of audience studies by Ien Ang (e.g. 1996), or the more recent
juxtaposition of sociology and self-organising networks proposed by Loet


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Leydesdorff (2003). The inclusion of a sociological perspective might have provid-
ed additional insight on these important questions.
In summary, this book incorporates a very interesting and informative collec-
tion of work on a single topic, and only a flavour of its diversity has been given
here due to the breadth and scope of the material. If the current state of the field
does not permit conclusions to be drawn, a concluding chapter bringing together
points for future debate might have added some coherence, as the diversity of
approaches may confuse rather than clarify. However, its breadth means that
readers from any of the disciplines that cover the cognitive sciences of music will
find something here to engage them, and the presentation of contrasting views
certainly stimulates reflection. The book thus represents an important landmark in
the field of psychology of music by highlighting a wide variety of important issues
and questions for future research on the central issue of musical communication.1

Alexandra Lamont


Ang, I. (1996). Living Room Wars: Rethinking Media Audiences for a Postmodern World. London:
Cole, M. (1996). Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. London: Harvard University
Hall, S. (1980). Encoding/decoding. In Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (ed.), Culture,
Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79 (pp. 128-38). London:
Goehr, L. (1993). “Music has no meaning to speak of ”: on the politics of musical interpretation.
In M. Krausz (ed.), The interpretation of music: philosophical essays (pp. 177-90). Oxford:
Clarendon Press.
Leydesdorff, L. (2003). A Sociological Theory of Communication: The Self-Organization of the Knowledge-
Based Society. Parkland, Florida: Universal Publishers.
MacDonald, R.A.R., Hargreaves, D.J., & Miell, D.E. (2002) (eds). Musical Identities. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

(1) Address for correspondence:

Alexandra Lamont
School of Psychology
Research Institute for Life Course Studies
Keele University
e-mail: a.m.lamont@psy.keele.ac.uk


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