Margulis’s research approaches music from the perspective of cognitive science. She is interested in the interface between musical structure and engagement, especially in listeners without formal training, and especially as it occurs dynamically across the course of the listening experience. Her book On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind (Oxford University Press) won the Wallace Berry Award from the Society for Music Theory and the 2015 ASCAP Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award.
In recent decades, empirical approaches have begun to work their way into the methodological toolkit applied to the study of music. They have not always worked productively alongside more traditional humanistic modes of understanding. This presentation argues that with sufficiently thoughtful exchange, scientific and humanistic approaches can illuminate human musical practices in ways neither could alone. In particular, since listening experiences often resist verbal explanation, psychology’s ability to uncover cognitive processes without relying on explicit report makes it especially well-suited for studying musical listening. Examples drawn from work on repetition, perceptions of musicality, and narrative readings of music illuminate the danger and the potential at the intersection of science and the humanities.