Sixth Form Lecture: Expectation in Music; Music and the Mind

Monday 17th December 2018

On Friday 30 November, our Sixth Form students were joined by Mr Richards for an insightful lecture on Expectation in Music; Music and the Mind.


Mr Richards explained that, when listening to music, whatever genre it may be, our brains are always searching for a melody, and patterns in the music. However, if our brain doesn’t find these, it can produce anxiety.


When listening to music, some key things that our brain recognises and looks for are:

Melody, rhythm and metre, tonality, harmony, form, instrumentation, instrumental techniques and texture.




Mr Richards then played some musical extracts to the Sixth Form students: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) and Randy Crawford’s Street Life.

Although these two musical pieces were very different in style and genre, they both shared similar tropes and qualities that “please” our brains, particularly the repeated melodies and patterns of the song, and the major key in which they were written.


Then, Mr Richards played our students a piece which had very different qualities to the previous two: Stockhausen’s Gruppen. This piece of music sounded very disjointed, with no clear patterns for our brains to follow; our brains were being introduced to new, unfamiliar elements throughout.

Our Sixth Form music students had a score of the piece in front of them, but even our scholars had difficulty following it!


While discussing how our minds, brains and ears reacted to the different pieces of music, Mr Richards explained that all music provokes a reaction, and everyone’s reaction is unique.




The final musical piece played to our Sixth Form students was Berio’s Sinfonia – Movement III.

This piece was written in 1986 for an orchestra and eight amplified voices. The voices are not used in a traditional classical way; they frequently do not sing at all, but speak, whisper and shout.

Overall, this piece was quite unusual and unsettling, and made a few people jump!


Once the piece had finished, Mr Richards asked our students:

“What were you expecting from this piece?”

“What did you predict?”

“Were you right?”

“How do you feel now?”


Mr Richards explained that our brains feel good when their expectations of music are met, and do not feel good when they are violated.


Mr Richards lecture on Expectation in Music; Music and the Mind gave out Sixth Form girls a lot to think about in regards to music and psychology, and how, and why, our brains respond to music in the way that they do.



Read more Queen Anne’s Sixth Form news here.


Find out more about our Sixth Form Academic Enrichment Programme here.