Conceptions of musical understanding

Susan Hallam, Ioulia Papageorgi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Music can be understood in many ways. This has important implications for music education. The research reported here explored how groups of people conceptualise musical understanding and what they believe supports its acquisition. In this study 463 participants completed two statements: "Musical understanding is" and "You learn to understand music through". Understanding music was viewed as complex and multidimensional with two overarching themes: personal musical understanding in context and understanding as process, with 10 main sub-themes of understanding: communication, kinaesthetic, emotional, personal, knowledge about music, critical evaluation, musical elements, analysis and comparison of music, internal representations, and creating music. Understanding was believed to be acquired through love and enjoyment of music, physical responses, emotional engagement, analytic processes, active engagement with music, education or guidance in formal or informal contexts, exposure to music, and listening. A model is set out illustrating the different ways in which it is possible to understand music and how these various understandings can be attained and supported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-154
Number of pages22
JournalResearch Studies in Music Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • development
  • expertise
  • learning
  • music
  • understanding


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