The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2016 | Learning to Compose and Improvise in an oral tradition: Cognitive Aspects of Indian Music
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Learning to Compose and Improvise in an Oral Tradition: Cognitive Aspects of Indian Music

Principle Supervisor: Professor Richard Widdess (SOAS)

Co-Supervisor: Professor Susan Hallam (IOE)

While there has been considerable psychological research on the ways that musicians learn to play and perform, almost all of this research has been conducted in a Western musical context. Meanwhile ethnomusicological research has not extensively benefited from or contributed to the insights of music psychology. This means that we do not have a comparative, culture-sensitive understanding of how musical structure and creativity are learned in different cultures and musical systems.

The high dependence on writing in Western classical music makes it an untypical case. In North Indian classical music, most teachers avoid or strictly limit the use of writing and verbal explanation, instead requiring the pupil to memorise extensive materials, and to compose and/or improvise new material that is grammatically and stylistically acceptable. The cognitive processes involved in learning to perform and create music should be particularly apparent in this context.

The successful candidate will work with teachers and students of North Indian classical music, in India and/or the UK, focussing on vocal music, and on the development of musical schemas and improvisation skills in students at different stages of learning. Applicants should have a background in  ethnomusicology, music cognition or music education.

Candidate Requirements

Candidates should have or expect to have a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology, music psychology or music education. Research training will be tailored to the candidate's needs and background, drawing on the expertise available in SOAS and the Institute of Education. Language training is available in SOAS.

Due to funding restrictions, this position is only open to candidates classified as 'Home/EU' student for fee purposes.

We aim to interview shortlisted candidates 20 May 2016. If possible, candidates will be given one week's notice for interview. Online interviews can be arranged.

Key References

Durán, L., Magriel, N., and Baker, G., (2011), Growing into music: Musical enculturation in oral traditions.

Hallam, S. Cross, I & Thaut, M. (2009) ‘Where now?’ In Hallam, S. Cross, I & Thaut, M. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology (pp561-568) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Snyder, Bob (2000), Music and memory (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press).

Widdess, Richard (2011), ‘Dynamics of melodic discourse in Indian music: Budhaditya Mukherjee’s ālāp in rāg Pūriyā-Kalyān’, in Michael Tenzer and John Roeder (eds.), Analytical and cross-cultural studies in world music (2; New York: Oxford University Press), 187–224.

Widdess, R. (2013), ‘Schemas and improvisation in Indian music’, in M. Orwin, Howes, C. and Kempson, R, (ed.), Language, music and interaction (London: College Publications).

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principle Supervisor: Professor Richard Wilson (


Co-Supervisor: Professor Susan Hallam (


Further information about PhDs at SOAS is available from:

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

Applicants should follow two steps

STEP 1:  Apply for the MPhil/PhD Music (

Applicants must submit a COMPLETE on-line application for admission to the MPhil/PhD Music as soon as possible but no later than the scholarship deadline (17:00 UK time, Friday 29th April 2016).

A complete application for admission includes transcripts, an explanation of the grading system for any degrees obtained outside of the UK, two references, CV, research proposal and a personal statement.

Please state in the application for admission that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury Colleges scholarship on 'Learning to compose and improvise in an oral tradition: cognitive aspects of Indian music'.  Your research proposal should take account of the project title and outline above, and indicate how you would aim to carry out the research. In your personal statement, please indicate why this project interests you, and in what ways you are qualified to undertake it.

The panel will be considering your scholarship application TOGETHER with your online application for admission.

For any queries regarding the programme application procedure, please see or email

STEP 2: Apply for the scholarship

You must apply for this scholarship via the on-line scholarship application form

For any queries regarding the studentship application procedure, please email

For any queries regarding the project, please email the Research Tutor, Department of Music: Prof. R. Widdess,

Closing date for application is:

Friday 29th April 2016, at 5pm