How does our knowledge about music influence the way we interpret it? Previous research in music cognition has approached the role of cognitive representations in the active processing of musical stimuli (Meyer, 1956; Lerdahl & Jackendoff, 1983; Deliège 1989, 1991, 1992; Krumhansl, 1990; Deutsch, 1999). Such studies have revealed the effect of musical features on implicit responses to music; however, they have not commented on how the content and structure of semantic knowledge about the music – associative meaning – impacts the listening process. The structure and function of this knowledge system also seems to depend on experience. Studies on expertise and cultural influences on music cognition suggest that listeners with similar experiences and affiliations have similar representations of musical structure (Castellano et al., 1984; Kippen, 1987; Huron & Ollen, 2003; Thompson, 2004; Bar-Yosef, 2007). However, these studies have relied on indirect evidence, dealing with listeners’ implicit responses rather than attempting to detail listeners’ explicit knowledge structures.
The primary purpose of this dissertation was to model the content and structure of associative knowledge for a specialized domain of music, namely, that of eminent jazz performers. In so doing, it relied on self-reflections and explicit responses from professional jazz musicians in several local music communities, who have years of experience listening and performing. Initial focus group interviews revealed that musicians tended to describe excerpts by referring to names of other musicians and by discussing broad characteristics of these performers. Therefore, a subsequent study asked participants to associate musicians' names with 15-second excerpts of familiar recordings ( association task), as well as to match musical descriptors to performer-name prompts (descriptor-matching task). Social network analysis (SNA) techniques were used to group participants into musical communities to determine the effect of community affiliation on the content and structure of associative knowledge.
Results pointed to differentiated knowledge for each excerpt and performer prompt, and implied that community affiliation, expertise, and several demographic variables impacted the content and structure of this knowledge. Specifically, the results demonstrated differences between community affiliation groups on the association task and between expertise groups on the descriptor-matching task. These higher-level cognitive structures were related to previously held theories in cognitive psychology (Rosch, 1975b; Medin & Shaffer, 1978), suggesting that associative musical meaning is content-specific, hierarchically organized, and specialized to the listener's experience.