David Huron

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


Research Areas:

  • Music Cognition
  • Computational Musicology
  • Systematic Musicology

Current Research Program:

I teach and do research in the field of music cognition at the Ohio State University. I head the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory and hold joint appointments in the School of Music and at the Center for Cognitive and Brain Sciences.

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 experience?

My work on expectation is chronicled in the book Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation (2006) MIT Press which received 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 my book 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 done work on what the 18th-century philosopher Edmund Burke called the “sublime” emotions: music-induced weeping, frisson (shivers), awe, 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. I also study Western music, with a special emphasis on the music of J.S. Bach.

A component of my work has involved developing computer software for music scholarship. 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 25 countries, including 28 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 liftetime Achievement Award from the Society for Music Perception and Cognition.

Our lab’s research publications  page provides links to most of my 150-odd publications. According to Google Scholar, these works have been cited more than 5,000 times. In addition, over 40 instructional videos and some recorded conference presentations are available at my Vimeo site.

Our lab emphasizes a collaborative multidisciplinary approach to research. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with a wonderful roster of graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and visiting scholars. We continue to maintain a talented, productive, and friendly community of music scholars — dedicated to understanding the mysteries of music.