The Shepherd School of Music
Rice: Unconventional Wisdom
The Shepherd School of Music
Exploring the Mind Through Music

Faculty Abstracts

David Eagleman

“Music and neuroscience: Insights from time perception and synesthesia”

Thursday, June 16th at 2 p.m.

In this talk I will discuss two aspects of neuroscience research that provide direct inroads into our understanding of music.  

The first body of research revolves around time perception.  When a stimulus is shown repeatedly, its first appearance is judged to have a longer duration than successive stimuli. Similarly, an ‘oddball’ stimulus in a repeated series will also be judged to have lasted longer than others of equal physical duration.  My laboratory has shown that this pattern of duration distortions parallels the pattern of neural activity seen with repetition: neuronal firing rates quickly become suppressed after repeated presentations of a stimulus (an effect known as repetition suppression).  Repetition suppression presumably reflects predictability and/or an increasing efficiency of representation. We have proposed that the differential response to novel events versus repeated events maps on to perceived duration: a suppressed neural response corresponds to a shorter perceived duration. We will discuss the importance and use of duration distortion in music.

The second body of research involves synesthesia, a phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense triggers an experience in another sense. For example, a musical note may be not only heard, but also seen with colors and moving shapes.  While synesthesia has traditionally been studied with small sample sizes (between 1 – 16 subjects), a large scale understanding of this condition has remained elusive.  We will present data from hundreds of rigorously verified synesthetes, whose perceptions have been tested and quantified using our Synesthesia Battery (; Eagleman et al, 2007), and we will ask about the historical relationship between synesthetes and music.  

Norman Fischer

“Musician, Athlete, Performer: Incorporating Mental Procedures to Train the Advanced Player “

Wednesday, June 15th at 2 p.m.

This session will focus on developing mental practicing/teaching techniques needed for training the three archetypes of the performing musician.

David Huron

“What is a Musical Work? And Other Curiosities of Memory”

Tuesday, June 14th at 7 p.m.

Storing information serves no biological purpose unless the stored information makes future behaviors more adaptive. From a biological perspective then, "memory" is not about the past: it's about the future. The different kinds of memory discovered over the past century are best viewed as templates for future action -- namely, as foundations for expectation and planning.  In this presentation, different types of memory will be illustrated through music. A number of emotions evoked by music can be plausibly traced to the interaction of different forms of memory. We will see that memory research also provides helpful insights into a long-standing philosophical problem: What is a musical work?

Fred Lerdahl

 “Linguistic and Musical Syntax”

Wednesday, June 15th at 7 p.m.

The use of the term “musical syntax” reflects the familiar view than language and music share basic organizational features. But what do the two domains really share, and how are they different? This lecture addresses these questions primarily from the perspective of music theory. After a brief historical survey, linguistic and musical syntaxes are addressed abstractly and then concretely through analyses of songs by Beatles and Schubert and their text settings. We also consider issues of sequential ordering and expectation, structure at global hierarchical levels, phonological contour theory, and psychological constraints on metrical structure. The lecture closes with a summary of shared and unshared structures with an eye on neuropsychological and evolutionary evidence.

Christine Neugebauer

“The Art and Science of Music Therapy”

Wednesday, June 15th at 2 p.m.

Music has been used as a tool for healing since ancient cultures, but music therapy as an evidence-based healthcare profession was officially established only in 1950.  The past 60 years have seen substantial growth of this field that continues to evolve and expand to service a variety of clinical populations ranging from premature infants to aging adults suffering from dementia. Music therapists are musicians trained in the clinical application and systematic use of music and musical elements to improve physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and communicative outcomes in a variety of clinical settings. Music therapy integrates art and science to aid in recovery, rehabilitation, and wellness.

In the pediatric medical setting, an increasing number of hospitals are adding music therapists to the healthcare team since the benefits of music therapy are validated by a growing body of research and positive clinical outcomes. At Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, music therapy services are provided on various units including the pediatric intensive care unit, the neonatal intensive care unit, dialysis unit, and general medical/surgical units. A music therapist first assesses children referred for services and then develops and administers a treatment plan individualized according to their needs.  A variety of music-based therapeutic interventions are used to address the following therapeutic goals:

  • Alleviate pain/anxiety using active or passive music experiences targeting attention and mood modulation.
  • Enhance coping & adjustment with traumatic injury or illness using therapeutic music experiences to promote self-expression, reciprocal interaction, and mastery.
  • Facilitate attainment of developmental skills in infants and young children with chronic illness through music-based developmental stimulation.
  • Enhance neurological recovery for patients with traumatic brain injury or neurological impairment through structured music experiences that stimulate cognition, receptive & expressive language skills, and active movement.

Music therapy has helped children with various diagnoses including burns, sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, renal disease, and mitochondrial disease. In addition, many of the children referred for music therapy have sustained significant traumas from serious accidents or abuse.  This talk will take a glimpse into the fascinating world of music therapy and its successes with helping children to cope, heal, and recover. 

Casey O. Callaghan

"Crossmodal perception in the arts"

Thursday, June 16th at 2 p.m.

It is natural to divide the arts into two classes. The first are unimodal art forms, or those whose aesthetically relevant features are perceptible through one sense modality. Potential examples of unimodal art forms are visual arts and music. The second are multimodal art forms, or those whose aesthetically relevant features are perceptible through multiple sensory modalities. Examples of multimodal art forms are opera, movies, and dance. In this talk, I discuss what it could mean to be a unimodal or a multimodal art form. Then, I explore six distinct forms of multimodal perception which reveal aesthetically relevant features of works of art. Finally, I develop an argument based on crossmodal perceptual phenomena that there are no unimodal art forms.

Aniruddh D. Patel


“Music, language, syntax and brain”

Wednesday, June 15th at 7 p.m.

The relationship between music and language has long fascinated thinkers from a broad range of scientific and humanistic disciplines.  In recent years new methods have been brought to bear on old questions about this relationship.  In this talk I will discuss cognitive neuroscience studies which address the following question: Does the processing of structural relations in tonal-harmonic music have anything in common with the processing of grammatical relations in language?  This is a much-debated question, relevant to the theoretical issue of ‘modularity’ within cognitive science and to practical concerns such as the study and treatment of Broca’s aphasia.



C. Richard Stasney


“Medical Problems of Performing Artists”

Wednesday, June 15th at 2 p.m.

Performing artists have a plethora of medical problems which directly relate to their specialty.  Whether it’s the ankle of a ballerina, the hand of a violinist, the embouchure of a trumpeter, or the vocal folds of a singer – all encounter repetitive motion injuries of that particular area most involved in particular areas of performance.  The Methodist Hospital Center for Performing Arts Medicine was founded to address these particular medical problems by a group of physicians who have expertise in those areas of medicine and understand and appreciate the demands placed on performers.  We have three broad areas of concern including providing medical care for the performers, research in illness prevention, and education of performers in ways to avoid injury.  This talk with give a broad overview of the types of illnesses that afflict performers and the care rendered to ameliorate those conditions.

Robert Zatorre

“Music in the Brain: Pitch, Imagery, and Emotion”

Tuesday, June 14th at 7 p.m.

How do our brains allow us to perceive, and perform music? How do we imagine musical sounds? Why does music elicit emotion? Neuroscientists are increasingly interested in questions such as these, because music can be a powerful way to reveal the inner workings of the mind and the nervous system that underlies it. Since music touches upon almost all of the higher mental functions, it provides us with a rich source of material to understand how the brain works. Conversely, musicians and musical scholars are beginning to become interested in the idea that the study of music and the brain may reveal insights into music, too.

In this lecture I will discuss research carried out in our lab over the past few years that help to shed light on these questions. Our research uses brain imaging technologies to investigate the patterns of brain activity that are important for simple events, like perceiving the pitch of a musical tone, to more complex abilities, such as recognizing a melody, or even imagining a melody when there is no sound. We also can study the anatomy of the living brain, to undestand for example how the brain of a musician is specialized for perceiving and performing music. Finally, we can also use brain imaging to trace specific molecular pawthays, such as the ones responsible for feeling emotion when we hear music. Our goal is to understand how the brain allows us to have music, and how music in turn affects the way our brains function.