Empirical Musicology

The Empirical Musicology Group UNSW was formed in 2004 after its founders, Emery Schubert and Dorottya Fabian, received an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant for the purpose of studying emotion and expression in music using continuous response methods (2004-2008).

Since then the research group has expanded in membership to encompass both staff and research students.


The philosophy which draws the members of the group together is that to understand music (1) it must be studied with the idea that it is listened to via the brain, rather than an object that can be understood in isolation from mental processing and (2) a variety of methodologies should be embraced, rather than the contemplations of the lone expert. For example, in our studies of baroque music performance practice, the treatises of historical theorists and modern day scholars are systematised and tested to see if new insights can be gleaned into what makes a piece of baroque music work aesthetically. This research also leads to specific tips about how performers can achieve particular kinds of aesthetic content, and what listeners are able to extract from the listening experience, for example, how to play dotted patterns in baroque music and how the listener perceived these patterns.

We also embrace a wide variety of methodologies such as continuous response methodology (which exploits the fact that music is necessarily a temporally dependent phenomenon). In general, we prefer to determine the response of a typical listener or performer or composer by using experimental designs and surveys, and using statistical techniques to make assertions about the typical response and the non-typical response.

We, therefore, can answer questions such as:

Which performer is the most successful at conveying a particular expressive character to the typical listener?

Are there important differences in the way that experienced and novice listeners experience music? What about the responses of expert performer?

Is one performance of a piece more preferable to the typical listener than an other? If so, why?

Is the process of composition influenced by the tools available to the composer?

Can musical features be used to predict emotional response?

We apply various methods found in science, psychology, mathematics and engineering, and believe that aesthetic and affective issues (such as emotion in music) can be studied empirically. They are not purely subjective phenomena. Active collaboration with other disciplines occurs regularly in the EM Group and seeks novel ways of addressing important and interesting issues in music and music perception.



• Electronic Music Lab

• Empirical Musicology Lab

• Recording Studio


• Disklavier

• Baroque Bows

• CD library of rare performances

• Portable ARF (Audience Response Facility) - housed at MARCS Auditory Labs. Measuring Audience Response On-Line (PDF) paper.


Note Time Playing Path software (This software compares a performance (in MIDI format) with a score (in MIDI format) and reports pitch and timing errors as per the NTPP method. To run, the m-files in the package need to be opened in Matlab. See ReadMe documentation in the package)

NoteView (Matlab code for analysing pitch stream of a single line musical instrument audio file (.wav) against a template (e.g. MIDI of the score saved as audio). Documentation included. Requires Matlab. Now in Beta testing.

• PsySound3

RTCRR (Beta version of 'Real Time Cognitive Response Recorder' for Mac OS X - freeware. Download latest version. Please control click and save as)

• EmotionSpace Lab (Self-report emotion recording software for Mac OS 9 and earlier only - Freeware. Please control click and save as)

• QMaker (in house experiment generation program)

• A range of sound recording and audio analysis applications

The centrepiece infrastructure of the Empirical Musicology group is the Empirical Musicology Lab in which computer generated experiments are conducted with the aim of automating many of the tasks of data collection in music perception and composition monitoring experiments. The lab uses custom made software for collecting data, which include the Emotion Space Lab and the in-house ‘QMaker’ software. We also have access to a portable audience response tracking system called the Audience Response Facility (Measuring Audience Response On-Line (PDF) paper), housed with our colleagues at MARCS Auditory Labs at the University of Western Sydney.

The Empirical Musicology Group also supports the PsySound3 project, whose purpose it is to produce an easy to use digital audio file analysis suite, allowing extraction of various musical features for further analysis and comparison. The Empirical Musicology Group uses the Electronic Music Computer Lab and the recording suite which has three studios. These spaces are used for sound recording, composition, sound editing, additional participant data collection and software development.


Emotion and Cognition of Syncopated Rhythms. Selected stimuli used in a study titled 'Cognitive and Affective Judgements of Syncopated Musical Themes' to be published in Advances in Cognitive Science.

Postgraduate Opportunities



ARC Discovery Project: Honours and HDR Top-Ups available

ARC Discovery Project 2008-2010 (DP0879616):

Title: Artistic signatures in violin playing on sound recordings:

What makes the performance of a prominent violinist recognizable and legendary?

Yearly honours scholarships and a HDR top-up scholarship exist for the right candidates to join the project. String players interested in empirical, data-driven research are invited to contact the Chief Investigator, Associate Professor Dorottya Fabian (d.fabian@unsw.edu.au) for further details. This project has now been completed.