I received my education at Northwestern University, first in music and then in psychology (BA, 1963) under the guidance of Arnold Jacobs (music) and Donald T. Campbell (psychology). My graduate education was in the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard, working in child language development under the guidance of Roger Brown and in auditory perception with Donald A. Norman (AM, 1966; Ph.D., Social Psychology, 1968). I taught at UCLA (1966-73) and at California State University, Los Angeles (1973-75) before coming to UT Dallas in 1975. My principal area of interest is the perception and cognition of music, the subject of my book (with Dane Harwood) Music Cognition (1986). I am an associate editor of the journals Music Perception and Psychomusicology: Music, Mind & Brain, and a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America.
My research interests have centered on the psychological reality and relevance to perception and memory of patterns of musical organization. What do listeners understand of music they have just heard? How do listening skills develop over the lifespan? Of particular importance is the perceptual framework in pitch and time in terms of which we hear music. Pitch is organized in terms of tonality and musical scales, and time in terms of a beat and its subdivisions. One series of studies concerns the implicit knowledge listeners have of musical structure. Typical studies investigate memory for melodies differing in such features as strength of tonality (tonal vs. atonal), contrasting recognition of changes in the global patterns of melodies (melodic contour) with recognition of changes in the fine intervallic detail, note for note, of melodies. A surprising result that I have been investigating intensively for the past few years concerns the improvement of memory for fine melodic detail that seems to occur automatically over the first 30 seconds after you hear a novel melody.
Another series of my studies investigate the listener’s ability to focus attention in pitch and time in order to pick up important information in a sequence of tones. A typical task is an auditory analog of the visual “hidden figures” test in which you have to find six lions hidden in the jungle. Listeners are asked to discern a familiar melody whose notes have been temporally interleaved with distractor notes. Listeners can use their knowledge of where (in pitch) and when (in time) critical events are located to focus their attention effectively. Notes at distinctly unexpected times and pitches become “lost” to perception, and notes at slightly unexpected pitches (quarter-step neighbors of scale notes) become assimilated to their scale-step neighbors. That is, pitches in a rapid sequence are encoded by the listener in terms of familiar categories. These studies have been extended to cover the development of music cognition from early childhood into old age. The importance of perceptual learning in shaping the listener’s musical experience is clear, and it is important to study the progress of that learning throughout the lifespan.
Dr. Rachna Raman received her PhD in psychological sciences in December 2013 from UT Dallas, where she worked under the supervision of Dr. W. Jay Dowling. She is presently continuing there as a research associate and lecturer. Rachna’s research focuses on cross-cultural studies primarily involving South Indian classical (Carnātic) and Western classical music, the influence of aging and musical expertise on music cognition, neurophysiological mechanisms underlying music perception and cognition, perception of stylistic differences in music using multidimensional tools, and perception of emotion in music. Rachna sings Western classical and teaches Carnātic vocal music. She is currently learning to play the piano. Her other hobbies include reading, gardening, and learning languages.
Graduate Research Assistants
Kieth Gryder is a graduate student in the psychological sciences doctoral program. Classically trained as a trombonist, he is also self-taught on bass guitar. Kieth graduated from UT Arlington with a BA in psychology, and from UT Dallas with an MS in applied cognition and neuroscience. His academic/research interests are aimed at music cognition and memory, which is partially inspired by Oliver Sacks’ work along with his own interest in learning and music. Other research interests include relationships between familiarity and recognition, learning, beneficial qualities of music, and neuroscience. Kieth’s aspiration is to be a professor for his love of teaching as well as continuing research in the field of music cognition. In his spare time, Kieth practices bass guitar and singing in the shower, along with watching “bad” movies, D&D, and learning new recipes to cook.
Melanie Holmes holds a BA in psychology and music from DePaul University, where she researched the relationship between music and nostalgia and studied classical voice. Before coming to UT Dallas, she spent 4 years working with the American Psychological Association’s Office of Publications and Databases. Her research interests include cross-cultural comparisons of music perception and the effects of music production on manual tasks. Outside of the lab, Melanie enjoys reading, playing video games, and knitting.
Brendon Mizener holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from Northwestern State University in Louisiana and a master’s degree in music performance with a concentration in percussion from the University of New Mexico. He has performed around the country with various groups, including the Phantom Regiment (as a tuba player), PercussioNM, and the Category 5 Wind Ensemble. For the 6 years prior to joining the MPaC Lab, Brendon taught high school band at Old Mill High School in Millersville, Maryland. His research interests include a broad range of topics, including the neural correlates underlying music processing, the intersection of music and language, and the role of cognition in music education. In his spare time, Brendon enjoys rock climbing, drumming, and spending time with his wife and daughter.
Undergraduate Research Assistants
Anuja Jayachandran is an undergraduate pre-medicine student studying neuroscience, with a minor in Spanish language and culture. She plans to pursue a career in medicine in the future. Anuja has been very interested in music from a young age, through dancing, singing, and playing the piano. She was the lead vocalist for her music school’s ensemble, which allowed the opportunity to perform at various charities and other major events. Anuja played the clarinet through middle school and was in choir throughout high school. In addition, she started dancing when she was 5, and playing the piano, not soon after. Music persists to be a valued part of Anuja’s life, and it is especially interesting when music perception is combined with memory and cognition. Some hobbies include traveling, watching Netflix, and listening to music.
Jacob is a senior neuroscience major at UT Dallas. He has been interested in music from a young age, playing piano from the age of 6 and guitar during high school. He joined the MPaC lab to continue learning more about music, especially inside of an analytical context. He is passionate about helping others in a healthcare context, and is glad to be able to see how music can cause such effects. In his free time, Jacob likes to listen to music, paint, and play video games. He hopes to attend medical school in the future.
Varun Athilat holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Houston and has recently completed his master’s degree in applied cognition and neuroscience at UT Dallas. He started playing piano at the age of 10 and also played cello throughout middle and high school. Varun’s research interests span music perception in regard to phrasing, the increasing use and prevalence of images in language, and mental health disorders. He also runs a YouTube channel with over 18,000 subscribers dedicated to showcasing classical music and is working on several projects centered around transcribing Bollywood songs for the piano. Outside of his academics and music, Varun enjoys cooking, browsing social media, writing, and traveling.
Alexander Bichler received an MS in applied cognition and neuroscience at UT Dallas. He has a background in linguistics, computer science, natural language processing, and mathematics. Alex is a senior data science platform engineer with research interests in speech synthesis, artificial neural networks, and computational linguistics. His hobbies include building computers, video gaming, woodworking, application development, and 3-D printing. Alex is currently studying Japanese, deep learning, application development, data warehousing, and data vault 2.0.
Chris Lo is a medical student at UNTHSC-TCOM. He received his bachelor of music degree from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in voice performance, under the tutelage of Former Senior Voice Lecturer, Scharmal Schrock. Other mentors include Dr. Jeffrey Snider at University of North Texas and Gary Arvin at Indiana University. Chris still performs as a freelance musician. His current research includes studying music, color, and emotion associations across cultures with Dr. Rachna Raman at UT Dallas and Performing Arts Medicine with Dr. Sajid Surve at UNTHSC. Other instruments Chris has studied include piano, cello, and guitar.
Shreeya Prabu is a high school junior at Uplift North Hills Preparatory. She has been learning Carnātic music (South Indian classical music) since the age of four. Shreeya also sings in her school’s A Capella team and choir. Apart from singing, Shreeya likes to listen to various genres of music and play softball. She is very interested in exploring the intersection of music and human psychology with respect to cultural music.
Anika Rao is a rising senior at Amador Valley High School in the Bay Area. She has been learning Carnātic music (South Indian classical music) for 9 years and is self-taught on guitar. She also has basic psychology knowledge from school. Anika aspires to pursue a pre-med path in undergrad and is very excited to be helping out in the MPaC Lab! Her hobbies include cooking & baking, watching Netflix, as well as spending time with her friends and family.
Krishna Thirumalai is currently doing a BS in ITS at UT Dallas. He is interested in the natural and behavioral sciences. Krishna’s passion for music emanates from his strong foundation in Western and Carnātic (South Indian classical) music. He has been playing the saxophone for 6 years and is trained in mridangam, the primary Carnātic percussion instrument. Krishna has performed in Jazz bands for 3 years and has qualified three times for All Region. He is regularly involved in collaborative projects involving Carnātic music.