What do we mean by 'music'? (and how can we make sense of it?) | Institute of Continuing Education skip to content


This talk asks the questions “what do we mean by music?” and “how can we make sense of it?”. Prof. Cross starts by exploring the ways in which we conventionally might think about, and understand, music. He then shows that we need to expand our orthodox ideas in order to make sense of the complex web of social facts, acts and artefacts that constitute music. We are encouraged to look – and listen – beyond Western societies to show how other culture’s musics, and ideas about music, can broaden and deepen our own understandings of music. Prof. Cross concludes by discussing some recent research that demonstrates that music has significant effects on how we interact with others, and briefly presents some ongoing research in Cambridge which suggests that speech and music are underpinned by many of the same social and cognitive processes.

About the speaker

Ian Cross is Professor of Music and Science, and Director of the Centre for Music and Science in the Faculty of Music. He has been a Fellow and Director of Studies in Music of Wolfson College since 1994, and is closely involved with the musical life of the College.

Since 1980 he has been involved in experimental investigations of the perception of tonal structures as well as of the role of culture and formal education in shaping musical cognition. He has explored the general limits and constraints on scientific accounts of music and is particularly involved in research into the relation between music and evolutionary theory.

He is the author of over a hundred papers and book chapters, and was co-editor of Musical Structure and Cognition (1985) and Representing Musical Structure (1991), both published by Academic Press. More recently, he has co-edited the Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology and the volume Language and Music as Cognitive Systems (2011), both published by OUP. Ian Cross is also a guitarist.

About the Madingley Lectures

The Madingley Lectures take place at Madingley Hall, home of the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education (ICE). This lecture series, given by eminent speakers across a wide range of subjects, is an important part of ICE's commitment to public engagement.

Event date

Tuesday, 6 May, 2014 - 19:30


Madingley Hall
CB23 8AQ