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Music and Memory

br2001_03FSBob Snyder (2000). Music and Memory. Cambridge, Mass.:MIT Press.

Reviewed by Felicity Baker, Sogn og Fjordane College, Sandane, Norway

Bob Snyder is a composer and video artist and Chair of the Sound Program at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago. He initially began to write the book to use in his compositional classes, however, interest by people
outside of his classes prompted him to transform it into its current form for a larger audience.

Thetitle “Music and Memory” gave me the impression that the book was primarily concerned with how music is processed, stored and then retrieved in memory. In one respect, this is what the book is all about. However, the book is much more complex and informative than just this….

As this book is not a music therapy text and concerns only one specific aspect of music psychology, I conceptualised that the book would only be of interest to people working in neurorehabilitation or to those who had
a keen interest in music psychology. However, I was mistaken and as I will detail in this review, the information contained in this book will be of interest to music therapists also working with people who have dementia, in (special) education settings and for those music therapists whose clients utilise improvisation in their sessions.

The layout of the book is clear and it is divided into two parts: 1) The cognitive concepts and 2) The musical concepts. The author suggests, that if the reader does not want to read a detailed review of the cognitive
ideas described in detail in Part 1 (a total of 119 pages), then the reader could simply read the first chapter “Auditory Memory: An Overview” and then skip to Part 2. Despite his suggestion, I read the whole of Part 1
and highly recommend that you read this first to help with your understanding of the later issues. Part 1 is a comprehensive review of the latest theories and ideas concerning memory and almost always relates these to both general concepts and to musical concepts.

Following the overview of chapter 1, chapter 2 concerns echoic memory and early processing. Cognitive issues such as habituation are described, “attention tends to move towards aspects of the environment that are not
stable, constant or predictable” (p.24). Understanding aspects of music processing such as this, provides us (music therapists) with explanations as why for example, we should discourage nursing homes from playing music
continuously, all day, every day.

Chapters 3 and 4 address the topics of grouping or “chunking” and short-term and working memory. Again, information contained here reminded me of how to think about the application of music in therapy. For example “when a grouping of events is similar to a previous grouping of events, grouping boundaries will often form in such a way as to emphasise that similarity” (p.44). To me, this reinforces the idea of using a motif and then a variation of it within a music therapy session, where the client is able to identify one motif and its variation in two separate chunks. Snyder also leaves the reader with questions to think about “When does a (musical) pattern
stop being similar to another (musical) pattern?” (p.44). In discussing closure in chapter 5, Snyder reminds the reader of how the structure of music can influence neural activity “Intensity …broadly defined as any
change in a stimulus that causes an increase in neural activity” (p.62).

Chapter 6 examines the processes of long-term memory. Snyder describes how long term memories are formed, and the influence of associations in facilitating this process. This may be of particular interest to those working within an educational setting and are interested in how information or skills can be processed and transferred into long-term memory. Within chapter 6, the three types of cueing (recollection, reminding and recognition) are also discussed. When reading this chapter, I couldn’t help but think about how this is information could be applied to music therapy work with people who have dementia. “when a particular long-term memory is recalled
or activated frequently, it develops many connections to other memories and hence its ability to be retrieved is great; its context is rich and many different things can cue its recall. On the other hand, when a particular
long-term memory is no longer actively used, its connections with other more active memories become weaker, and there are fewer associative pathways through which to cue its recall” (p.71). This quote aligns with the mission
many music therapists hold when working with people with dementia. We use music to stimulate the recall of clients’ associative memories where music acts as a cue. In doing so, we aim to reactivate and/or maintain the connections
to long-term memory. Chapter 7 and 8 contain discussion on categorical and schematic organisation and chapter 9 focuses on the cognitive construct, metaphor.

Part 2 focuses on how the concepts detailed in Part 1 are represented in music. In this way, memory and cognitive concepts are used to explain the possible origins of some kinds of basic musical structures.

Firstly, chapter 10 “Event fusion”, looks at the concepts of the pitch and interval with special attention on the interval of the octave. Leading on from that, chapter 11 discusses the topic of melody. Here, concepts
of tuning and scales and their categorical and schematic qualities are described. This leads to the discussions on melodic motion and melodic contour and further to issues of tonality. For example, Snyder describes “axial melodies” where the melody rises or falls around a central pitch, eventually returning to that central pitch giving the melody a balanced yet static quality. Snyder includes an appendix in his book containing a list of musical examples that the reader can later find and listen to. Each music selection suggested, aims to illustrate various points he has
described in the text. For example, he lists Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza VIIb” on The Solitary Saxophone as an example of axial melody.

Rhythm is the central theme of Chapter 12. Beat, pulse, tempo, accent and meter are all addressed individually. As with the chapter on melody, the chapter on rhythm also examines schema and contour specific to rhythm.
In addition, a discussion on free rhythm and polyrhythms for example, are also included. I think chapter 12 would be of interest to people working with clients where improvisation is an integral part of their treatment. It details aspects such as rhythmic tension and release based on concepts of cognitive structures particularly with the idea of grouping or “chunking”. An understanding of these structures may be useful when analysing and interpreting
the improvisation of clients. Finally, chapter 13 discusses musical form and the psychological conditions necessary to make clear boundaries in large-scale musical works.

Whilst the book deals with melody, rhythm and musical form, the author does not present material on other components of music, for example harmony and timbre. Snyder himself, notes this point in the “preface”, stating
that this book has been designed primarily as a text for his students. In addition, he does not discuss the subject of emotion for the same reasons. However, Snyder does include a chapter about “Metaphor” detailing how culturally
specific metaphorical systems can be used to describe musical experience and structure.

Generally, this book is easy to read and interesting and contains a lot of information. It is certainly a useful reference for those people wishing to gain a greater understanding of their work from a cognitive psychological perspective. This would certainly be an invaluable text for those training courses teaching a music psychology component. Despite it being primarily written for the student of composition, this text is of great value to the music therapy field as it expands our understanding of music processing and encourages us to view our work from differing perspectives.

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