Michigan State University
Michigan State University
Digital Humanities & Literary Cognition Lab
Music and Narrative
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Collaborative Research: The Role of Narrative in Music Perception

Our newest study, "The Role of Narrative in Music Perception," explores when and why we use narratives to understand music, as well as how these music-inspired narratives relate to cultural training. This project builds on a study begun at the University of Arkansas, which revealed 1) that a majority of students listening to orchestral music (without lyrics) imagined a story, or a narrative while listening; and 2) that these storylines often converged or aligned across individuals (with up to 88% shared themes). Bringing humanistic tools to the analysis of these narratives and a cross-cultural framework, the DHLC is broadening the study to explore how these stories converge or diverge across cultures, comparing results from participants at MSU and U. Arkansas to those from participants in rural China, as well as reversing the music chosen so that all participants listen to both Western and Chinese musical samples. This study recently received funding from the National Science Foundation and has been in progress since May 2016 with funding currently extending to July 2020.