Class piano at the conservatory: embodied music cognition and practical harmony

    Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


    Our conception of the brain is influenced by metaphors like the computer which grant the brain an executive function. This notion ignores the fact that the brain evolved in the context of the natural environment and functions together with it. In addition, we are frequently less aware of the action-perception dichotomy that pervaded psychology for many years. Modern neuroscience has effectively demonstrated that, even at the level of the cell, action and perception are inseparable. Music is not only sound that can be analyzed and appreciated. It is do-able, to put it in the words of James Gibson, the father of the the theory of ‘affordances’: play-able, sing-able, hum-able, clap-able and dance-able. Musical pitch has spatial and temporal characteristics. The intense reactions people exhibit while listening to music demonstrate that music is not only perceived as action, but that human intentions are ascribed to it. In the class piano lessons, we attempt to show students how music ‘works’. Improvisation is used as a tool to explore the possiblities the tonal system proffers us. At the same time the student is learning that harmony can be ‘done’ with his or her own instrument: improvising a second voice or an accompaniment. Practical harmony in this perspective is not a lesson where chords treated in the theory lesson are ‘executed’ at the piano. On the contrary, theoretical knowledge develops from the practical manipulation of tonal material, using the instrument as a tool to extend the range of human possibilities.
    Period27 Apr 2012
    Event titleAnnual Conference of the Dutch-Flemish Society for Music Theory
    Event typeConference
    Conference number14
    LocationAntwerpen, BelgiumShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational


    • music education
    • neurosciences
    • conservatories
    • music theory
    • curriculum innovation