When program notes don't help: Music descriptions and enjoyment

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The widespread practice of including program notes for classical concerts assumes that extramusical information affects musical experience, but the psychological mechanisms underlying this process are little understood. In this study, 16 people without formal musical training heard excerpts from Beethoven String Quartets prefaced by either a dramatic description, a structural description, or no description. They were asked to rate their enjoyment of the music, and in a later stage, to recall excerpts and descriptions. Results showed a significant negative effect of description, suggesting that prefacing an excerpt with a text description reduces enjoyment of the music. In a second experiment, 11 new participants heard the same excerpts in the different description conditions, and were not asked to rate enjoyment until a second stage of the study. Results followed the same pattern as those in the first experiment, but did not rise to the level of significance. Conceptualizing listening by connecting it to linguistically named correlates (a practice fundamental to music training) may have more multifarious (and not always straightforwardly beneficial) effects on musical experience than commonly assumed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-302
Number of pages18
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Music
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


  • conceptualization
  • musical description
  • musical enjoyment
  • program notes
  • verbal overshadowing


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