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MSA Tas presents Dr. Judith Pickering


Acoustic resonance from the dawn of life: how musical elements of speech convey emotion

Start Date

20th May 2016 4:30pm

End Date

20th May 2016 5:30pm


Room 113, Conservatorium of Music; 5 Sandy Bay Road, Hobart

The Tasmania Chapter of the Musicological Society of Australia
in association with the University of Tasmania Conservatorium of Music

a public lecture by Dr. Judith Pickering

"Acoustic resonance from the dawn of life: how musical elements of speech convey emotion" 

4.30pm | Friday 20 May 2016
Room 113, Conservatorium of Music
5 Sandy Bay Road, Hobart 

Entry by gold coin donation.
Free for MSA members


Acoustic resonance from the dawn of life
Dr Judith Pickering

This paper examines how musical elements of speech, present from birth long before a child learns to speak, continue to be a vital source of information concerning the emotional and psychological content of human conversation. Furthermore it is a vital part of emotional resonance and empathy: the ways in which we tune into one another and are on each other's wave-length.

When babies emerge from the womb, long before the development of propositional speech, they partake in forms of emotional relatedness with their parents. Pre-verbal communication enhances later verbal immersion in a co-created reverberating chamber: echoing, amplifying, resonating, attuning: as well as being discordant, out of step and dissonant.

A mother learns her baby's pre-verbal vocal language: the unique character and intentionality communicated through baby's mewlings, coos, gurgles, murmurs, humming, lip and tongue protrusions, flute-like joyful cries, disgruntled, fretful cries. Mother imitates, amplifies and adds musical variation to such vocalisations and the child feels understood. When mother imitates and amplifies baby's vocalisations, she also finds to her delight the baby imitates and amplifies her communications, leading to a vocal improvisation of theme and variation.

The musical elements of speech continue throughout life to transmit vital elements of our inner life and emotional states. Although with the acquisition of language children's communication will feature ever increasing degrees of complexity, layers of emotional meaning continue to be transmitted through paralinguistic channels of vocal communication. Underlying the myriad forms of unconscious and conscious communication beyond the verbal content of our conversations, such acoustic fundaments transmit vital information concerning the inner world of the other. We can uncover such meaning through awareness of the 'musical' aspects of communication.

Alongside other channels of communication such as facial mirroring, bodily gestures, and linguistic features of verbal utterances, musical elements of conversational communication include: intonation, tone-set, mode, melodic contour, vocal quality (timbre),resonance, tessitura, articulation (staccato, legato, marcato, rubato), rhythmic pattern, timing, pulse (regular, irregular), meter, tempo (fast, slow, accelerating, slowing down), phrasing, emphasis, dynamics, timing, pauses, turn-taking, musical forms such as imitation, theme, variation. Simply put, it is not so much what is said but how it is said.


Dr. Judith Pickering is a Musicologist, Early Childhood Music Educator, Singer, Psychotherapist and Jungian Analyst. She holds tertiary degrees in Religious Studies, Music Education (Kodály Institute, Hungary), Musicology, Psychotherapy, and Analytical Psychology. She has a doctorate in Psychology.Books include: Early Childhood Music Education, (Arts Council of Australia, 1989), Acoustically Pure Intonation In A Cappella Vocal Music, (Australian National University, 1996), Being in Love: Therapeutic Pathways Through Psychological Obstacles to Love (Routledge, 2008). Judith's musicology thesis, (Canberra School of Music, Franz Liszt Academy of Music Budapest and Royal Stockholm Acoustics Laboratory, Sweden) was on the Acoustics of the Voice and won the Alice Moyle Prize for Musicology. On her return to Australia after her studies at the Kodály Institute, Hungary she was a major force in developing Early Childhood Music Education programs for pre-schools, child-care centres, Montessori schools and for community organisations such as the Arts Council, Gaudemus Music and Nursing Mother's Association in Canberra. She taught Kodály to mothers, fathers babies, toddlers up to adults and also taught aural, choral intonation, sight-reading to adults. She was a conductor of Gaudeumus and the Canberra Boys Choir and had a vocal octet specialising in early music. She was also a lecturer in musicology at the Canberra School of Music, Australian National University, specialising in Early Music, Renaissance, Baroque and Australian Studies in Music. She has over twenty years experience as a music educator working with parents and children from birth to adulthood. She is currently a member of the Sydney Philharmonia Chamber Choir.