By Shayna Herszage, Managing Editor
When a person hears music or watches a concert, they are processing only a few outputs of information such as the sound of the music or the appearance of the orchestra. However, while a listener or audience member does not always clearly see the cognitive processes happening for the performers, these processes are very much present in a series of ways. In Linda Kaastra’s new book, “Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed cognition in musical activity”, Kaastra pulls apart and examines the many cognitive processes that take place in different musical scenarios in a way that is enticing for both musical and non-musical readers alike.
In analyzing the cognitive processes in music, Kaastra explains that there are drastically different processes associated with different forms of playing music — for example, learning a song in a music lesson is different from practicing the same song later on, and both of these scenarios are different from performing the song on a stage in front of an audience. As such, they all require various forms of cognitive processes related to details such as phrasing, technique, tempo, and emotional expression.
Unlike most other works which focus on the topic of cognitive processes in musical performance, Kaastra’s book discusses cognitive processes in terms of playing the bassoon. As she explains in the book, the overwhelming majority of past works within this field have utilized the piano as its instrument model, because the measurement of notes on the piano is particularly easy compared to other musical instruments. However, Kaastra, a bassoonist herself, explains that the bassoon is “an instrument of character,” largely due to its expressive abilities and the fact that it is often called upon to add color and depth to an orchestral arrangement. Thus, in her work, Kaastra is able to combine both her knowledge of cognitive science and her knowledge of the intricacies of musical performance on the bassoon to shed light not only on how musical performance is cognitive, but also how cognitive science can be musical.
In “Grounding the Analysis of Cognitive Processes in Music Performance: Distributed cognition in musical activity”, Linda Kaastra takes the concept of musical performance and separates out the nuances of different types of performance and different aspects of the required cognition processes. Kaastra delves into the details of human cognitive function and musical ability in a way that is fascinating and simple to follow — even for those who have limited experience with music or cognitive science. Musical and non-musical readers alike will finish this book and continue to ponder the many cognitive processes which must take place in every detail of daily life.