Friday, 24 February 2012

Musical Cognition

I’ve just finished reading Henkjan Honing’s Musical Cognition:  A Science of Listening.  Although I had low hopes for another book about how we process music, written for the layperson, I found it to be a little gem of a book, with bite-sized, digestible chapters. 

And many of the chapters did require a bit of chewing and digestion.  The book is indeed written for the layperson, eschewing jargon and complicated figures, but that does not mean that Honing assumes (as many authors seem to do) his reader to be uneducated or slow-witted.  On the contrary, Honing allows the reader space to consider and contemplate as he carefully but conversationally guides the reader through such knotty problems as “What is music” and “How do we recognize beat and meter in music?”, referring to his own research and that of others to describe approaches to answering these questions.  I admit that I didn’t always feel like thinking that hard, but it was well worth the effort.

In the end, one of main points of this book is that we are all trained listeners, with a lifetime of experience at listening to music.  The "illiterate" listener, lacking formal musical training, is almost as good at listening to and understanding music as a professional musician, but is not able to put names on all he hears.  What the illiterate listener lacks is mostly musical vocabulary.

Far from being the fluffy read I anticipated, this book was thoughtful and thought-provoking.  I’d love to sit down with Honing and discuss the questions raised in this book over several cups of coffee.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you (almost) can, if he happens to be as conversant with Skype as you guys are.

    His home phone number and email are online with his bio, and I suspect he would LOVE to hear from you.

    (Reminds me of the time when we were given an open book essay question as to whether (some author) was a 'cultural relativist'. We didn't have a clue, so we found him in the phone book (remember them?) and called him and asked him.

    Needless to say the three of all began our essay responses with "In our conversation with (whoever--don't remember) last night, he said..."