Parncutt, R. & McPherson, G. (Eds.) (2002). The science
and psychology of music performance: Creative strategies for
teaching and learning, New York: Oxford University Press.
$45 ISBN 0195138104
Reviewed by Peter R. Webster
One sign of a maturing profession is the continuing
emergence of volumes devoted to the review and interpretation of
research findings. For music teaching and learning, the
publication of two handbooks of research (Colwell, 1992; Colwell
& Richardson, 2002) in the last ten years has been a
remarkable achievement. The release of this book adds further to
our understanding of music as a deeply meaningful human
experience. Expertly edited by Richard Parncutt and Gary
McPherson, the volume provides very readable reviews of important
research about music performance. The twenty-one chapters by
forty-one different scholars provide short and generally
well-crafted introductions to topics in music performance,
organized into sections on the developing musician, performance
skills, and instruments and ensembles. Because systematic reviews
of research on music performance in the context of teaching and
learning are remarkably rare, this book is a welcomed addition to
The volume is of modest length, just under 400 pages.
The chapters are, by design, restricted to about twelve pages
each and include approximately fifty references in each chapter
drawn from the research literatures in music education, music
psychology, and related fields. Not all citations at the end of
each chapter are cited in the body of the text. This makes the
references less a set of citations and more a collected set of
further readings on each topic for the reader.
Each chapter is jointly written by a
“…scientist (psychologist, acoustician, physiologist,
or physician) and …a performer or music educator” (p.
ix). This was done in order to help bridge the gap between
research and practice. A careful review of the pairings reveals
that this approach was not always followed in the strictest of
terms, but this does not affect greatly the success of each topic
reviewed. I found nearly every chapter provided a workable
balance between the more technical and the applied—a major
tribute to the authors and the editors.
It should be noted, too, that the team of writers is
decidedly international in flavor, with over ten different
countries represented. There is strong representation from
Scandinavian countries as well as Germany, England, and the
United States. Clearly, the editors worked very hard to find the
best people for each topic and were not content to simply include
those that were conveniently located in one region of the world.
This is a major strength of the volume.
In terms of content, the chapters represent a wide range
of topics. The first section on the developing musician features
six chapters, including an excellent account of motivation
(Susan O’Neill and Gary McPherson) and brain mechanisms
(Eckart Altenmuller and Wilfried Gruhn). The motivation chapter
is a good overview of the many theories in the general literature
and the authors tie this well to the specific work in music.
Readers interested in the latest thinking on brain function will
find the chapter on this topic to be effective in linking the
most recent research to the theories and practices of music
education. As we begin to do more credible data collection with
brain scans taken under more valid and complex music conditions,
this approach to objective study of music processing will hold
great promise. This first section of the book also contains
chapters on musical potential and environmental influences,
performance anxiety, and music medicine issues.
The second section on sub-skills of performance is the
most directly related to work in music cognition and contains
topics of critical importance to performers and educators.
Chapters on sound and sign, sight-reading, memory, intonation,
and body movement are all useful contributions, but four
particular chapters are worth special note. The summary on music
improvisation (Barry Kenny and Martin Gellrich) is one of the
strongest in the book. The review of theoretical positions is
excellent and the list of references for further study will be
very helpful to researchers.
The chapter on music practice (Nancy Barry and Susan
Hallam) provides a review that is badly needed in our field. The
concluding part of this chapter on strategies for teachers is
outstanding and needs to be read by every music educator. Of all
the many requests we make of our students as music teachers,
practicing is perhaps the most common, but amazingly is the least
known. Hopefully, the chapter will be an excellent catalyst for
Two chapters on music communication represent some of
the most exciting, recent work in music cognition. The way
performers communicate structure is the subject of the first of
these chapters (Anders Friberg and Giovanni Umberto Battel).
Here we read of the use of technology to help us understand the
subtleties that performers employ in tempi, tonal shaping, and
dynamics to make a musical performance communicative of meaning.
For those who might have not kept current with the research in
music cognition in the last ten years, the summaries of research
described here will reveal that scholars no longer are content
with only reductionistic studies of rather trivial phenomena.
This is reinforced by the companion chapter on emotional
communication (Patrik Juslin and Roland Persson). Here, we read
about recent experimental work with a technique called
“cognitive feedback” which is designed to help
performers understand how to more accurately communicate a chosen
affect. I enjoyed these two chapters especially because they
underscore the important role of the listener as part of what
performers intend and do.
The final section of this book contains chapters that
speak to the specifics of instruments and voice. Here, the
chapters become more specific to individual media of expression
such as the solo voice and string and wind instruments. The
slant moves from the cognitive to the acoustical. The chapter on
wind instruments (Leonardo Fuks and Heinz Fadle), for example,
summarizes the important issues of the reed, air column, and
embouchure. I was pleased to see attention to pedagogy
throughout these more technical chapters, including a nice
reference to the teachings of Arnold Jacobs in the wind
instruments chapter. The chapter on rehearsing and conducting
(Harry Price and James Byo), though well written, seemed out of
place to me as a chapter in this section of the book. It might
have been better placed in the middle section.
On a more critical note, there are some topics missing.
The editors make clear that the book is not meant to be
comprehensive, pointing to the lack of chapters on certain topics
such as gender studies, technology, and motor skills. There is
also no inclusion of percussion instruments in the final section
of the book. I will also note the lack of attention to music
performance in other cultures besides that of the West, however
it is hard to imagine a chapter that might have been written on
this topic that would follow the structure used here. Perhaps,
too, more could have been written about the social context of
performance, going beyond the very small attention paid to this
topic in the chapter on environments (Heiner Gembris and Jane
Each author group was asked to close their chapters with
sections on the application of research to practice. This was
not always done with the kind of thoughtfulness that could be
expected. Especially given the subtitle of the book,
“Creative Strategies for Teaching and Learning,” one
would expect more attention to strategy. Perhaps the reason for
this is the natural conservatism of researchers in going too far
beyond the data, yet I would have enjoyed more attention to this
stated goal of the editors.
This volume has much to commend it, and I highly
recommend it to music educators, especially those hundreds of
graduate students who are seeking inspiration for systematic
research topics that might address music performance. Parncutt
and McPherson and their team of carefully chosen scholars have
created a wonderful book. As a newly appointed academic dean, I
will be sharing this book with not only my music education and
cognition colleagues but also my performance faculty as well.
Imagine having something exciting to talk about in meetings
besides teaching loads and travel budgets.
Colwell, R. (Ed.), (1992). Handbook of research on music
teaching and learning, New York: Macmillan Publishers.
Colwell, R. & Richardson, C. (Eds.), (2002). The
new handbook of research on music teaching and
learning, New York: Macmillan Publishers.
About the Reviewer
Dean of Academic Affairs and the
John Beattie Professor of Music Education and Technology
School of Music
Peter Webster is the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs
and the John Beattie
Professor of Music Education and Music Technology at the School
Northwestern University. He holds degrees in music education from
University of Southern Maine (BS) and the Eastman School of Music
University of Rochester (MM, PhD). His teaching responsibilities
Northwestern University include courses in research, music
technology, and creative
thinking in music. His published work includes articles on
perception, preference, and creative thinking in music which have
in journals in and outside of music. Webster is co-author with
Williams of Experiencing Music Technology, 2nd edition,
textbook and CD used in introductory college courses in music