Professor Ian Cross

Professor Ian Cross


Ian Cross is Emeritus Professor of Music and Science in the Faculty of Music at Cambridge and former Director of the Centre for Music and Science. His research explores music, its materials and its effects from a wide range of scientific perspectives.

Professor Ian Cross

Ian Cross started out as a concert guitarist before becoming absorbed into academia by way of a BSc and a PhD at City University, London. He joined the Faculty of Music in Cambridge in 1986, moving from an unestablished position to become an Assistant Director of Research, then Lecturer in Music and finally Reader before being appointed as Director of the Centre for Music and Science, recently retired. He founded the Centre for Music & Science (CMS) in 2003.

His teaching and research are concerned with the application of the sciences to help understand music from a variety of perspectives.  His early publications helped set the agenda for the study of music cognition;  he has since published widely in the field of music and science, conducting experimental research that has spanned the psychoacoustics of violins and the evolutionary roots of musicality.  His current research follows two tracks in focusing on exploring relationships between speech and music as interactive media, and on the effects of engagement in group musical activities on children's capacity for empathy.

He has supervised numerous graduate students, and has been a visiting professor at institutions in Europe and the Americas.

He has reviewed for all the leading journals in the field of music psychology as well as in other fields, including psychology, cognitive neuroscience, biology, medicine and archaeology; he has also reviewed many proposals for most UK Research Councils, charitable funding bodies, and many national and international funding agencies.  He is presently Editor-in-Chief of the online open-access journal Music & Science, published by SAGE in association with Society for Research in Psychology of Music and Music Education (SEMPRE).

He is a Governor and Chair of the Research Committee of the Music Therapy Charity, and a Trustee and committee member of  SEMPRE.

Research interests

Ian Cross has published widely in fields from archaeology to neuroscience. Much of his focus has been on the evolution of the human capacity for music where, in over fifty publications that draw on ethnomusicological, cognitive-behavioural and neuroscientific evidence, he has explored the nature and functions of music. Starting from the premise that music and language constitute components of a unitary human communicative toolkit, he has developed an approach based on the idea that music is best interpreted as a communicative medium optimised for the management of situations of social uncertainty, in part because of the potential of participatory music-making to engender a sense of group solidarity. Research in the CMS has shown that participation in musical interaction, including dance, can have positive effects for those involved that may extend well beyond the musical interaction itself into their everyday lives.

A Templeton Foundation-funded project, conducted with Dr Tal-Chen Rabinowitch at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences in Seattle, has been testing whether or not a programme of musical group interaction can enhance children's capacity for empathy by means of a set of randomised controlled trials. This project has just finished its data-gathering phase and should yield clear evidence concerning whether or not music can have a functional role in affective and social education.

Another research collaboration (with Professor Sarah Hawkins, an Emeritus Affiliate of the CMS, and Professor Carlos Cornejo of the Pontifical University of Chile, Santiago) is exploring naturalistic interactions in unscripted speech and music.  Analysis of video and audio data has already already produced results that suggest that timing and pitch relationships in speech and in music in interactive contexts are mediated by common mechanisms. In the current year analysis of motion-capture data will be added to that of the video and audio in order to elucidate the dynamics of spontaneous interaction across modalities.