Research Seminar* in Systematic Musicology

Konversatorium zum Schwerpunkt Musikpsychologie und Akustik
Supervision of graduate student projects in music psychology and systematic musicology
Part of Graz's intermural Musicology program -  Hosted by the Centre for Systematic Musicology

Richard Parncutt 2005, last updated 8.10.2014

Contents: Detail - ProgramMembers - Projects 


Systematic musicology (wiki, structure, article) is growing fast. The same applies to its biggest subdiscipline, music psychology (deutsch, english). There a lot of interesting and promising research questions in these areas. The latest research is presented at regular international conferences such as ICMPC, ESCOM and DGM, and in journals such as Music Perception, Psychology of Music, Musicae Scientiae and Jahrbuch Musikpsychologie. Students who participate in this research seminar have the chance to witness this exciting development, and to contribute to it with their own research. 

The quality of conference abstracts and journal articles in modern music psychology is generally promoted by peer review. Submissions to conferences and journals are accepted, improved or rejected on the basis of recommendations by anonymous experts. Success does not (or should not!) depend on age, qualification or rank; the main thing is the academic content. The coordinator of this seminar contributes regularly to leading international conferences and journals in the area of music psychology through original research contributions, confidential review of research submissions, and organisation/running of conferences and journals. I am in a good position to help students prepare research reports and submit them to international conferences and journals.

The research seminar aims...      You will address a topic...
  • to promote discussion of current research questions and methodological alternatives 
  • to give you constructive feedback on your research project and train you to give constructive feedback to others
  • to give you the support you need to write good research reports at all levels
  • that takes advantage of and develops your personal interests, motivation, musical skills, musical experience, and academic abilities
  • that helps you pursue your chosen career, whether it be in music, in research, or otherwise 
  • that has significant broader implications and the potential to generate academic and public interest

The course is mainly about planning your research, and presenting and interpreting your results. Bachelor's students prepare a theoretical paper (Bachelorarbeit, mainly in summer semester). Master's students plan and perform an empirical study, and analyse and interpret the results (Masterarbeit). Other presenters include doctoral students, guest researchers, and staff of the Centre for Systematic Musicology.

English immersion

To promote the academic careers and international mobility of German-speaking students, the working language of the seminar is English. All talks and all discussions are in English. You are encouraged to write your research reports (theses) in English. The seminar offers not only a comprehensive introduction to the art of academic research in SysMus (the course coordinator is an internationally leading music psychologist) - it also offers specialist English language instruction at a high level (the course coordinator is a qualified and experienced English teacher and native speaker). If you accept the challenge of submitting an abstract to an international conference, preparing a conference presentation, contributing to conference proceedings, or submitting a journal article, you can count on expert academic and linguistic support.

Course requirements

The main aim of the course is to improve your research and presentation skills in preparation for modern international scientific conferences. For that reason, most things that we do are similar to (or modeled on) what normally happens at such conferences.

All talks should refer to a list of relevant sources of literature (mainly empirical studies; usually about a page of references). Please write (author, date) on the slides and prepare an APA reference list on the last slide (only present it if someone asks). The second-last slide of your ppt file should summarize the main points and remain visible during the discussion.

In the Musikologie Bachelor curriculum, students can only enroll in this course in summer semester. It may nevertheless be possible to work on your Bachelor thesis during winter semester (ask me about it).

Calculation of the final grade

Tip: A good way to get “sehr gut” for this course is to present your work at a relevant international conference with a peer-review procedure. I will help you with the abstract submission; please also include me as second or last author so we can show off about your achievement in the performance record and the annual report.

Tips for giving feedback on guidelines

I welcome feedback on guidelines and other similar material. Take for example the internet page "Structuring the argument of a theoretical paper in the social sciences", including links from that page. To give useful, constructive feedback on this text, you might send me an email in which you ask some questions that will give me ideas to improve the text (making the question unnecessary), or make direct suggestions for improving the texts. Here, I am mainly concerned with the conceptual content of the guidelines. Of course you are also welcome to correct my spelling, grammar, formatting or reference style, but that is not the main point of giving feedback.

Structuring the argument of your bachelor's thesis

Bachelor's theses in this class are based on the guidelines "Structuring the argument of a theoretical paper in the social sciences". It is up to you to read the entire text of this guideline and all the links. Students are introduced to this method in the seminar "Music Psychology" in 5th semester: they formulate a main thesis and summarize arguments/evidence for and against it from the research literature. The research seminar builds upon this foundation. The basic structure (main thesis and arguments/evidence) is maintained. It is enriched by additional detail in the introduction, main section and final section of the presentation.

Your Bachelor's thesis should be based on a talk that you give in this class. The basis for the talk is this file. Here are a few interesting points from the guideline. 

For a list of common problems in your Bachelor’s thesis and how to avoid them, see the last link “Avoid problems encountered by other students” on the page “Structuring the argument…”.

My support as you write your thesis

I prefer not to read drafts of bachelor's, master's or PhD theses, or parts thereof. Instead I ask you to present your work in the research seminar and take advantage of the discussion following your talk. For your bachelor's thesis, the best foundation for individual supervision is the table summarizing the structure of your argument. For your master's thesis, the best foundation is a plan of your method (participants, design, procedure) or your results for analysis, interpretation and presentation. To write a good thesis, please read my guidelines, compare your work with recent "very good" theses in the university library or on the student profiles page, and support each other to develop team skills and long-term academic independence. That is the best strategy for success.

My approach to research supervision is largely based on my participation in peer-review procedures in the international infrastructures of systematic musicology, especially music psychology (more). Research supervision is most rewarding for me when my international colleagues take an interest in my students' work and my students embark on research careers (see student profiles). I hope you will be one of those students!

If you are considering the possibility of a research career in systematic musicology, you will need to do the following, one after the other: finish your bachelors, enrol in a masters, submit an abstract to an international conference, present at the conference (where you risk learning more about systematic musicology than in any university program!) , finish your masters, enrol in a PhD, submit an article to a leading international journal, submit your PhD, and look for a postdoctoral position.

Most of that should happen in the English language. In most academic disciplines, German has the status of a secret language. If you write in German, most relevant experts will not be able to read your work (or will not take the time to do so). It will be ignored and have no "impact". There is no point doing good research if most international experts never hear about it! 

References for scholarhip, fellowship and job applications

If you need an official reference for a letter of application, please first read my colleague David Huron's guideline.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to follow the guideline for structuring the argument of a bachelor's thesis? Why not just start writing?

You don't have to follow the guideline strictly, but you should fill out the table and discuss and revise the content with me and other students several times. The guideline is basically just a list of points that most social scientists agree should be included in any good theoretical paper. Writing a good theoretical paper is not easy, that's why I put together a comprehensive guideline to help you. Once you have acquired the skills, you can return to a freer structure in later work.

I cannot find good (empirical) research on my topic. 

Are you sure that you are searching in the right places (the usual databanks, Google Scholar, internet) for the right terms and combinations of terms? Try brainstorming for possible keywords. When you find an article, write down the relevant terms used in that article, and search for them, too. Every time you find a new article, expand your list of keywords and try out new combinations. After that, sort the literature that you find according to its distance from your topic. Read the ten (good) articles or chapters that appear to be most relevant; they don't have to coincide with your topic. Don't be surprised if no article or chapter exactly coincides - after all, you are planning an original research project! Finally, consider the implications for your specific question of the research reports that you have found.

If I still can't find good empirical research on my topic, can I do an experiment for my bachelor's thesis?

Theoretically yes, preferably no. Any good research report begins with a good literature review. One aim of your bachelor's thesis is to train you to write a good literature review. One thing at a time! A bachelor's thesis with a clear structure and argument will put you in a good position to write the introduction and conclusion of an empirical master's thesis or dissertation. Besides, experimental studies often take longer than expected. My tip: Finish the bachelor's degree quickly, enjoy the sense of achievement, and free yourself to concentrate on your master's. Write your bachelor's thesis on a topic that is related to the experimental work you are planning for the master's.

Is it ok to do a bachelor's thesis with one supervisor and a master's with another? Or change between master's and PhD? Or both? 

It is generally good to compare the approaches of different supervisors. All supervisors have their special strengths and weaknesses. By changing supervisors you learn to evaluate them, which in turn helps you find a new, independent approach to your research topic. But this process will only be beneficial for you in the long run if all chosen supervisors have good international publications. By "good" I mean highly regarded by international experts, i.e. frequently cited, in good journals, or with good publishers. "Good" also means that there was a thorough, anonymous peer review procedure with a reasonable rejection rate. That is the most reliable way to promote academic quality.

Does that mean I can do a master's with you even if I never implemented your guidelines for bachelor's theses? Or a dissertation if I did not do a master's with you? 

Yes, provided you have written a previous thesis under the supervision of a researcher with good international publications. In addition, before doing a PhD with me you should have performed a small empirical research project by yourself (or as leader of a group) and written up the results. The normal and recommended way to do that is to write an empirical master's thesis.

You seem to expect a lot from your students. Why should I choose you as a supervisor?

I expect about the same level as my international friends and colleagues in music psychology. If you are considering an international research career, you will need many different skills, and you will need to acquire them gradually and systematically. You will need to be fluent in the international language of systematic musicology, which is English (but you should also be able to speak and write fluently about your research in your native language, and if you your native language is English, you need a good command of another major language). As a master's student you should present your first paper at an international conference with your supervisor as second author, and start to build up international contacts. As a doctoral student you should do the same but more independently, and it is also a good idea to submit a major contribution to a leading international journal before you submit your dissertation. I will help you to do all of these things, to increase your chance of getting research and teaching positions later on. To make all that possible, you will need to get started as a bachelor's student. Start early to lay the foundations for your later success. One of those foundations is the ability to construct and present a convincing argument, as explained in the above guidelines.

The world is your oyster. Über den Tellerrand schauen! 
"Tradition ist Schlamperei!" (attributed to Arnold Schoenberg)


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The opinions expressed on this page are the author's personal opinions. Suggestions for improving the content are always welcome.