Understanding Musical Understanding: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology of the Musical Experience

Author: Fiske, Harold
This work amalgamates music psychology, philosophy, and sociology into a fresh view of the musical learning experience. It demonstrates that explanations of musical understanding are not found in analyzing musical activities per se but rather in examining underlying cognitive activities: principles of melodic and rhythmic construction, language-like template tuning protocols, sensory awareness and quality assessment, and the effects of cultures on neural network formation.


Musical understanding is something personal, private, and intensely meaningful and special to each individual.. . . . Fiske’s immensely entertaining deductive arguments provide a breath of fresh air into the debate about what music is, how we perceive music, and what music might mean.” – Dr. Robert Walker, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

A brilliant book. Author Harold Fiske has taken on the formidable task of explaining the almost inexplicable. With great precision, Fiske leads the reader gently through the deep tangled forests of the human brain. The chapters unfold, as each layer shines light into the deeper recesses and miracles of hearing and understanding music.” – Jack Heller, Professor of Music Emeritus, University of South Florida, Tampa

“[This book] contains enough provocative new arguments to be interesting to readers already knowledgeable about the topics, but it is written at a level that accommodates readers at lower levels of expertise.” – Jere T. Humphreys, School of Music, Arizona State University, Tempe

Table of Contents

Foreword by Robert Walker
Introduction: Music as Understanding On Time
Pattern Constructs
Music and Speech
Why modeling musical Time and Shape is such a tricky business
Is some music better than other music?
What is a good song?
Can we understand the music of another culture?
Appendix A: Explaining Chinese music: A test of the culture hypothesis
Appendix B: On the origins of western scales