My work centres on the relationship between musical performance and everyday social interaction. I specialise in the study of musicians’ communicative behaviour and have published both theoretical and original empirical research, combining fieldwork and ethnography with controlled experimental design.
I contributed to the development of Music's new 4-year undergraduate programme, Music - MA (Hons), leading the design of a programme that reflects issues arising through my research interests - to do with the role of conventional music literacy in HE and music scholarship, and a critical approach to interdisciplinary discourses about music. I teach on various core and elective undergraduate courses for all music undergraduates, and supervise a number of PhD students. I’m currently Music's Postgraduate Research director.
Before joining the Reid School of Music in 2007, I studied classical viola and North Indian sitar performance. These days, I play with various local ensembles and friends, including Edimpro, GIO (Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra), Grey Area ensemble and Orchestra of the Canongait.
I am currently a Visiting Researcher at Durham University for the AHRC-funded Interpersonal Entrainment in Musical Performance (IEMP) Project (2016-18).
Music as social interaction
Oral/improvised music performance
Psychology of music/embodied music cognition
Academic discourse on music and science
With the help of graduate students, I convene local reading group meetings on music cognition research. I’m an Editorial Board member of Musicæ Scientiæ, the journal of ESCOM (European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music), and a scientific committee member of the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD).
Current research activity
Musician movement - capture and analysis
ECA RKE award to host a research visitor from the University of Geneva, including a one-day interdisciplinary symposium (Mar 2016).
Improvising Duos project uses 3D kinematic data of duo musicians to examine the nonverbal movement cues that signal 'unity' or ensemble between duo performers. Collaboration with Dr Peter Keller, Music Cognition and Action group, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig. Funded by Carnegie Research Grant (Feb to Apr 2011) and British Academy Small Grant (Apr 2011 to May 2013).
Recent invited papers:
'Playful encounters: music cognition in the moment'. South Asian Music Research Seminar, All Souls College, Oxford, UK, 2 Mar 2016.
'Playing away: Music and the cognitive sciences'. International Centre for Music Studies Research Seminar, Newcastle University, UK, 17 Feb 2016.
'What is it we see when we see musical interaction?' Invited lecture for specialist course in musical expression, Ghent University, Belgium, 17 Nov 2015.
Previous PhD supervision
Awarded Nov 2013 - Scoring Sounds: The Visual Representation of Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Georgios Athanasopoulos, PhD.
Awarded Jun 2014 - Memory Strategies for Expert Pianists. Kirsteen Davidson-Kelly, PhD.
Awarded Jun 2016 - Musical prediction in the performer and the listener: Evidence from eye movements, reaction time, and TMS. Lauren Hadley, PhD.
Nikki is a presenting lecturer and co-author of the 'Fundamentals of Music Theory' MOOC, hosted by Coursera.
Musicianship 1 (* not 2016-7)
Ways of Listening *
Intercultural Music Performance
Music 1A: Psychology of Music
Music 1B: Instruments, Culture and Technology *
Music and Human Communication *
Music, Style, Identity and Image in the modern age *
Contemporary Issues in the Psychology of Music
* Course Organiser
My research interests and projects all come from the relationship between musical performance - especially improvised performance - and everyday social interaction.
Some of my work has focused on North Indian musicians, using ethnography and video analysis to study performers’ nonverbal behaviour. I saw that accompanists used precisely-timed nonverbal gestures to give 'feedback' to the soloist, in a way that resembles the behaviour of speakers and listeners in everyday conversations. This work (my doctoral research) contributed to the AHRC-funded Experience and Meaning in Music Performance project, directed by Prof. Martin Clayton (Durham University). I’ve also written about the performers’ own views of successful musical communication, describing how this depends on an ‘acting out’ of relationships between the performers.
In the Improvising Duos project, we used motion capture technology to look at duo improvisation with jazz and free improvising musicians. We’ve created an original database of recordings, and through this we’re exploring the kinematics of joint improvisation. One example from this project is an experiment about whether people can tell the difference between a pair of musicians who are performing as a duo, compared to two musicians made to look as though they are engaged in duo performance, but who did not at any point play together.
Recently, this corpus and strand of research have been developed as part of my Visiting Fellowship on the AHRC-funded Project, Interpersonal Entrainment in Musical Performance (2016-18) at Durham University, and through my ongoing collaboration with researchers at the Neuroscience of Emotion and Affective Dynamics Lab (NEAD), University of Geneva.
In short, I’m interested in what we can learn about music as a form of communication, and vice-versa: what this type of empirical music research can teach us about social behaviour generally.