David Huron

Academy Professor Emeritus
Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor Emeritus
School of Music & Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Ohio State University


Research Areas:

  • Music Cognition
  • Computational Musicology
  • Systematic Musicology

I retired as Head of the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory in 2019. Nevertheless, I remain active with a number of ongoing research projects.

I would like to understand why music is so enjoyable. Why precisely do people fall in love with music? What makes sounds appealing (and unappealing)? Why do listeners have different musical tastes? How does culture shape our musical experiences?

My work on listener expectation is chronicled in the book Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation (2006) MIT Press (recipient of the Wallace Berry Book Award). Supplementary materials related to the book (including sound examples) are available online. My work on the perceptual foundations of melody and voice-leading is described in Voice Leading: The Science Behind a Musical Art (2016), also published by MIT Press. An early summary of this work received the Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory. My current research focuses on music and emotion. In particular, our lab has conducted a number of research studies on what the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke called the “sublime” emotions: music-induced weeping, frisson (shivers), awe, ASMR, and laughter.

In general, our approach to music research combines music analytic, behavioral, physiological, computational, and anthropological methods.

Whenever possible, we emphasize cross-cultural comparisons in pursuing our research. Over the past decade I have carried out fieldwork in Micronesia, where I have been collecting empirical data related to globalization. My research has involved the analysis of Native American, Chinese, Japanese, Hasidic, Balinese, Korean, and sub-Saharan African musics. Recently, with my collaborators, we completed a study examining over 10,000 melodies from 83 cultures. I also study Western music, with a special emphasis on the music of J.S. Bach.

A major component of our work has involved computational musicology, especially digital corpus studies. I designed and programmed the original Humdrum Toolkit which is a software app explicitly for music research. The Toolkit has undergone considerable expansion and development by Dr. Craig Sapp at the Packard Humanities Institute and Stanford University. (I am no longer involved in software development or maintenance; please contact the Humdrum Users Group [**HUG] if you are seeking assistance.)

Over the years I have delivered over 400 lectures in 26 countries, including 33 keynote conference addresses. In 1999, I delivered the Ernest Bloch lectures (entitled Music and Mind: Foundations of Cognitive Musicology) at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2011 I delivered the Astor lectures at Oxford University, and in 2012-13 I delivered the Donald Wort lectures at Cambridge University. I am an active member of the Advisory Board (Fachbeirat) for the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (Frankfurt, Germany). In 2017 I received a lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Music Perception and Cognition and in 2019 I received a Lifetime Membership award from the Society for Music Theory. In 2020 I was awarded a Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Brain, Language, and  Music, and in 2021 I was awarded the Nico Frijda Honorary Chair in Cognitive Science by the Amsterdam Brain and Cognition Center at the University of Amsterdam.

Our lab’s research publications  page provides links to most of my 170-odd publications. According to Google Scholar, these works have been cited some 8,000 times. In addition, over 40 instructional videos and some recorded conference presentations are available at my Vimeo site.

Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with a wonderful roster of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and visiting scholars. The Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory continues to maintain a talented, productive, and friendly community of music scholars–dedicated to understanding the mysteries of music.