Kevin McKenna

Undergraduate Discipline


Vice President for Enrollment & Dean of Admission and Financial Aid

Previous Courses

Music, Mind, and Meaning: The Perception and Cognition of Music

Open , 3-credit seminar—Fall

The ability to read music is preferred but not required.

As early as Pythagoras and Aristoxenus, humans have tried to characterize and explain how music is understood, processed, and endowed with meaning despite seeming to have no obvious semantic content. As we have come to learn more about human cognition in general, our engagement with music has been explored with much greater understanding of the intersecting aspects of our nature as biological organisms that impact our cognition of music—from our segmentation of audio streams, to our conceptualization of musical objects and tropes, to the role that gesture plays in our experiences of “motion” in music. This course will survey several major areas of music cognition and perception. We will explore how modern insights into cognition can inform analyses of compositions from various historical periods, primarily from the Western concert-hall tradition. Students taking the course as a component in one of the performing arts Third programs (Music, Dance, or Theatre) will complete regular weekly readings and/or analytical responses. For students taking the course as a three-credit seminar, the weekly readings and analytical exercises will be supplemented with at least one in-class presentation and two additional analytical essays (on topics to be assigned).