Music and Science   

Systematic Musicology

Among all the arts, music is the one which is more connected with aspects, contents and methods of science and scientific thought. Simply think to Pythagoras's discovery of the systematic relation between the perceptive experience of the consonance of two sounds and the length of strings producing them, or think to the symmetry principles characterizing the Ars Canonica by Johann Sebastian Bach, or think to Peter Szöke's investigation in the field of musical bioacoustics - the science of the sound phenomena related with animals' and plants' life. And if, following St. Augustine "Musica est scientia bene modulandi" 1, "...that in the scientific image of world inherited from ancientness, nature is written in the language of mathematics and its characters are numbers, geometric figures and so on, this also means that the book of nature is written in musical characters" 2.

The first scholar introducing the concept of systematic musicology, stressing the importance and uniqueness of its scientific approach (see the German term Musikwissenschaft), was the Austrian musicologist Guido Adler on 1885. In the current terminology, the field of systematic musicology encompasses all the musicological subfields dealing with the music as a whole - not only with specific expressions of it 
3. Consider the slavish term hudba, indicating at the same time the meaning of artistic music and of musical phenomenon in a wide sense, or consider the Edgard Varése's definition of music as organized sound 4.
Under a scientific point of view, systematic musicology is an emerging field grounded mainly on empirical and data-oriented bases. It deals with arguments of acoustics and psychoacoustics, experimental psychology and sociology, neuroscience and cognitive science, physics, technology and computer music. On the other side, in a more properly humanistic field, paradigms are those of philosophical aesthetics, theoretical sociology, semiotics, hermeneutics, music criticism, cultural and gender studies 

The intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of music, as emerging from the most recent developments of experimental researches on musical performance, also puts in evidence a deep relationship between mathematical, physical, neurophysiological, perceptive and musical aspects. At the same time, thanks to the ever growing developments of computational science, it became a common practice to use numerical simulations in order to model musical performance in such a strict and effective way, to allow a precise experimental verification.
The knowledge acquired is very promising relative to strategies and applications to music pedagogy. The traditional approach in higher music education - based on an intuitive transfer of interpretative skills from the teacher to the scholar - may be integrated with the stimulation of the conscious control of expressive features by the learner 



1 In De Musica, Opera di Sant’Agostino, ed. Latino Italiana, La Città Nuova Editrice (1976).

2 In Borio, G., Zanarini, G., Serravezza, A., Orcalli, A., Gozza, P., & Baroni, M., "La musica come scienza: modelli meccanici, astrazioni matematiche, teorie armoniche, esperienza e storicità dell’uomo musicale", Il Saggiatore Musicale (1997),

3 Parncutt, R., "Why systematic musicology? Why a student conference?". In M. M. Marin, M. Knoche, & R. Parncutt (Eds.), First International Conference of Students of Systematic Musicology (SysMus08): Abstracts, Department of Musicology, University of Graz, Austria (2008).

4 Perna, P., "Il canto degli uccelli",

6 Parncutt, R., "Systematic musicology and the history and future of western musical scholarship", Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies, 1(1), 071101, pp. 1-32 (2007).

6 In Francescato, E., & Bisesi, E., "La Musica in testa. Tre giorni di scienza, musica e apprendimento", Sissa, Trieste, 14 gennaio 2009.