Food and Paper: Perceiving phrase boundaries in Western and non-Western music (Popescu)

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Tudor Popescu at the University of Vienna will give a talk on how different listeners perceive phrase boundaries in music. 

Tudor Popescu


The degree to which even unfamiliar music appears to “make sense” to listeners indicates listeners are able to perceive inherent structural features of music, at least implicitly. Such implicit learning is itself conditional upon exposure to the music(s) to which one is enculturated. 

One aspect to which listeners may be sensitive is segmentation, and a number of studies suggest listeners rely on surface features, such as durational separation, as markers of segment boundaries.

Only few segmentation studies exist based on non-Western music, but these indicate that Western listeners, both musicians and non-musicians, have some awareness of segment boundaries in unfamiliar Middle Eastern music, although less than enculturated musicians. Here we asked Western subjects to indicate phrase boundaries while listening to Indian music of two different rāga grammars (Study 1), and to piano pieces from the common practice period (Study 2). Segmentations were compared against expert segmentations based on hierarchical analyses of Indian and Western music.

Results suggest significant convergence between subjects’ intuitions and expert segmentation. This in turn implies recognition of a grouping hierarchy, albeit to a degree mediated by musical expertise. In the talk, I will discuss how far subjects may be aware of deep structural features in both unfamiliar Eastern sonorities as well as in common-practice Western tonality; and how far performers may articulate deep structure through surface cues.


Tudor Popescu is a postdoc in the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna, working with Tecumseh Fitch. His current work focuses on the music/language interface, specifically on the neuronal resources recruited by the processing of musical and linguistic syntax, and the long-standing question of their domain-specificity and/or -generality. 

Within (and adjacent to) music cognition, he is further interested in: musical imagery; music-poetry parallels; musically-induced emotion; the social function, cultural transmission, and evolutionary origin of music; and in how musical structure – both vertical (consonance and harmony) and horizontal (tonality and musical form) – is encoded in the brain.
Tudor has a strong interest in statistics and methodology, and for his neuroimaging research he employs, among others: MRI (functional, structural, diffusion, and classification-based), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), and non-invasive brain-stimulation (mainly TMS and tDCS).


Published May 16, 2019 2:47 PM - Last modified Apr. 20, 2020 3:20 PM