Find thousands of books, manuscripts, visual materials and unpublished archives from our collections, many of them with free online access.

The science of music. 4/4.

  • Winston, Robert M. L.
  • Audio

About this work


Radio documentary presented by Professor Robert Winston looking at the evolutionary and developmental roots of music. In this episode he looks at performance and what happens when we make music. He goes to the Royal College of Music, with violinist Tasmin Little, to see the College's new performance simulator. The research looks at the physical changes that take place in the autonomic nervous system during performance as well as at pre-performance nerves. Robert Winston suggests that when we perform we're making something new happen, which could be why we're drawn to live music. Clarinettist, Colin Lawson talks about how he likes to play the same piece differently each night, which involves an element of risk. Eric Clark, music psychologist at the University of Oxford, considers the differences between making and listening to music, suggesting that making music with other people brings together cognitive, emotional, motor and social skills. Ian Cross, director of the music and science programme at the University of Cambridge, talks about the hypothesis of hypofrontality, where parts of the frontal lobe can shut down and a state of flow is experienced in which an instrument seems to play itself. Psychologist, Vicky Williamson, has looked at ways in which musicians remember their repertoire and how they use the same techniques as memory experts modified for remembering music with a multi-dimensional memory code. Robert Winston talks about perfect, or absolute, pitch and Professor Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist at McGill University, Montreal, continues this. His view is that we all start out with perfect pitch but don't necessarily use or need it. Philip Ball, author of 'The Music Instinct', also speaks about perfect pitch. Professor Adam Ockelford, Roehampton University, works with the autistic and musically gifted child, Romy. Through his research he has been able to put the obsessiveness of gifted musicians in a new light. Robert Winston and Adam Ockelford talk about whether there is a genetic basis for pursuing music. Lauren Stewart, Goldsmiths College, London, has used brain scanning to record changes in the brain as it becomes musically literate. In studies she has been able to isolate which part of the brain was responsible for decoding music notation and found that the superior parietal cortex was changed in response to 3 months of music lessons. Returning to the performance simulator at the start of the programme, one of the students, Douglas Harrison, discusses what it feels like to use it.


UK : BBC Radio 4, 2013.

Physical description

1 CD (28 min.)


Broadcast on 6th June, 2013.

Creator/production credits

Produced Martin Williams for BBC Radio 4 ; presented by Robert Winston.

Copyright note

BBC Radio 4.



  • English

Where to find it

  • LocationStatusAccess
    Closed stores

Permanent link