Music — where cognition and emotion meet
John Sloboda gave the Presidents’ Award Lecture at the Society’s Annual Conference in Belfast, April 1999. He argued that millions of people could discover the joys of music making if we created modern equivalents of the village brass band and stopped focusing on the need to be best.
Music presents a puzzle. On the one hand, people love music and devote much time and effort to putting themselves in the way of it. On the other hand, the levels of musical skill achieved by the vast majority of people in contemporary Western society are surprisingly low. On the face of it, music has all the characteristics which would lead one to predict that many people should be highly skilled at it. A long tradition of research into skill and its acquisition (cf. Ericsson & Smith, 1991; Ericsson, 1996) suggests that structure plus motivation plus practice leads to skill. In reviewing these four aspects, I will first provide evidence that most music has the kind of structure that is easily learned and understood by the human mind. Second, I will examine evidence relating to motivation, and the very high value that many individuals place on their engagement with music. Third, I will review evidence of the intimate link between level and nature of practice activities and achievement in music.
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