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PSYCHsourcesSpiegeloog 419: Harmony

PSYCHsources: Music Psychology

By May 13, 2022No Comments

Music Psychology studies the mental processes involved in listening to or performing music, as well as the psychological effects of music (Deutsch, 2016). It is a vast and interdisciplinary field of study that connects psychology to the fields of musicology (the scientific study of music, including music theory and history), music performance, linguistics, neuroscience and many more. Even geneticists, computer scientists and physicists contribute to research in the field of music psychology.

Music psychology includes a wide range of research areas. Music cognition specifically studies the neurocognitive processes behind music. Research on music cognition involves questions such as what makes us musical, which brain areas and neural networks are active when we listen to music, or to what extent music and language are alike (Music Cognition Group, 2022). Some researchers even study musicality in animals, to better understand why we even have music in the first place, from an evolutionary perspective.

There’s also a therapeutic side to music. You may already know music therapists work with people who have mental disorders like depression or trauma, but music can be used in a much wider range of treatments. For example, music therapy can also help patients with Alzheimer or Parkinson’s disease (Nederlandse Vereniging voor Muziektherapie, n.d.). The related field of Musical Medicine focuses specifically on the medical applications of music. For example, patients who undergo surgery report less pain and need fewer painkillers if they listen to music they like before, during and after the operation (Winkster, 2021).

If you are interested in music psychology, here are some sources to get you started:

                                                               Photo by Adrian Korte
UvA Research
  • The Music Cognition Group

UvA has its own research group dedicated to the study of Music Cognition. On their website you can find more information about their research and links to some of their publications. You can also participate in some of their research online, or try a demo of one of their older experiments, through the Amsterdam music lab website.

  • Music Cognition Reading Group

If you are interested in reading and discussing books and articles about music cognition, the Music cognition group also has its own reading group which you can join. More information can be found on the reading group website.

  • Music Matters

UvA’s Music Cognition group has its own blog, where they write about some of their research. The blog also includes links to videos and podcasts related to music cognition. Their blog can be found here.

  • ABC symposium

Last summer, the Amsterdam Brain and Cognition group organized a symposium called “musicality, unraveling our capacity for music.” A recording of the symposium can be watched on this site.

Other Research
  • Muziek als Medicijn

The Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam had a research group dedicated to the application of music as an intervention. Most of their research focuses on the effect of music before, during and after surgery, but they also have a more neuropsychological research project that studies the effect of music in patients with dementia. Their website has information on their research projects and links to some of their publications. The website is accessible in both Dutch and English.

  • Psychology of Music

Psychology of music is a journal dedicated to music psychology. Although not all of their articles are accessible to UvA students, some of them are open-access.

  • Speaking of Psychology: Music and your health

The APA has its own podcast. In one of the episodes, neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin was invited to talk about the effects of music on our brain chemistry and on our health.

  • Musicality in Animals

If you are interested in musicality in animals, you may find this podcast episode, on Beasty beats, interesting. It talks about the biology of musicality in humans and animals and about the evolutionary value of music. Another podcast (in Dutch) by de Universiteit van Nederland speaks about the question whether animals can be as musical as humans are. BBC Earth’s podcast also has an episode dedicated to the artists of the animal kingdom.

  • Oxford Music Online

Do you have a more theoretical question about music such as: when was your favorite composer born, who composed 4:33, what’s the half-diminished chord, or the Tristan chord, again? For such questions, Oxford Music Online is a good place to start. The Oxford Music Online website gives you access to two Encyclopedias of Music, a dictionary of music and the Oxford Companion to Music, both with a very handy search function.

  • Oxford History of Western Music

Oxford History of Western Music is a website written like a music history textbook. If you are interested in a broader period or topic in music history, this website can give you a lot of background information and can help you connect the dots. This site has a search function as well, so if you wish to know more about Queen or the Beatles, you do not need to start in musical prehistory and go through the whole book in order to find them.

  • UvA Musicology databases

The UvA’s library website has a database of musicology websites. It includes links to several encyclopedias of music, some sources on ethnomusicology – the cultural and anthropological study of music – links to databases of pop music and access to some historical music manuscripts. Most of these sites are more dedicated to topics like music history and theory than to music psychology, though.

  • Music as an Intervention

The Dutch television show De Kennis van Nu dedicated one of their episodes to the different applications of music as an intervention. Even if you don’t speak Dutch, this video might still interest you – especially if you are into neuropsychology. During the programme, an opera singer who underwent brain surgery is interviewed. He was woken up during the operation and asked to sing. This helped the surgeons identify which brain areas were crucial for functions like speech and movement. Video fragments of his surgery are shown in the programme. The programme can be accessed through the NPO Start website free of charge.

  • Dokters van Morgen

Another Dutch television programme, Dokters van Morgen, dedicated an episode to the therapeutic applications of music. The episode can be accessed on the NPO Start website free of charge.

Books & Blogs
  • Music Cognition: The Basics

UvA’s Music cognition professor Henkjan Honing wrote several books about music psychology. His books include Iedereen is muzikaal and Aap slaat maat (in Dutch), as well as several English works. His newest book, Music cognition: the basics was published last year.

  • Chords of the Brain

UvA’s Natural Sciences faculty hosts a monthly discussion platform at Science Park, called Bèta Break. In a recent meeting, Henkjan Honing, professor at UvA’s Music Cognition Group, spoke about what makes us musical, and why humans have musical abilities at all. A video recording of the lecture can be found on the Music Matters blog or watched through this link.


If you are interested in music psychology, there are several courses and programmes you can enrol in, including several bachelor courses, a minor and a master’s programme. A list of all the music cognition-related courses offered at the UvA can be at the music cognition group website (underneath the tab “courses”).

A bit farther away, Leiden university also offers a number of electives focused on music, including a course on music cognition.


– Deutsch, D. (2016). Music. Oxford Bibliographies. Retrieved 21 April 2022 from:
– Music Cognition Group (2022). Research.  Universiteit van Amsterdam. Retrieved 21 April 2022 from
– Nederlandse Vereniging voor Muziektherapie (n.d.). Muziektherapie [flyer]. Retrieved 21 April 2022 from:
– Winkster, N. (2021). Muziek als medicijn. Nemo Kennislink. Retrieved 21 April 2022 from:
Rosa Breed

Author Rosa Breed

Rosa Breed (1990) is a third year bachelor student with a passion for music. She is currently writing her bachelor thesis on the analgesic effect of music.

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