Peter Keller

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2018/2019
discipline Psychology
Professor & Research Program Leader of Music Cognition & Action, Western Sydney University

Research project

Human Interaction Through Music: Psychological & Social Foundations of Group Music-Making


The proposed research entails work on a book manuscript on Human Interaction Through Music: Psychological & Social Foundations of Group Music-Making. The central thesis of the book is that group music making, as exemplified by musical ensemble performance, is a microcosm of human interaction. Participation in collective musical activities draws upon a broad spectrum of sensory, perceptual, cognitive, motor, and social processes that support other forms of collaborative behaviour in everyday life. In fleshing out this idea, I will adopt an interdisciplinary approach that brings together research from fields within psychology, neuroscience, and the humanities (including empirical musicology, ethnomusicology, and anthropology). Documenting and synthesising different theoretical approaches and empirical findings will provide a repository of knowledge that can further our understanding of an ancient form of human social communication, one that is quite likely the oldest surviving means of fostering group cohesion and communicating one group’s collective intentions and feelings to other groups. This knowledge will also inform practices related to group musical activity in the context of education, as well as the use of music to promote health and wellbeing in daily life and in clinical settings.


The book is structured in three parts. The first part will deal with the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of musical interaction by defining the concept, discussing the forms it takes across cultures, and the evolutionary conditions that may have led to its genesis. A historical overview of research related to musical interaction will also be given in this part. The second part will address how musical interaction works from psychological, social, and neurophysiological perspectives. The third part will delineate pedagogical implications and clinical applications, and conclude with a section that presents a synthesis of the main ideas presented in the book.




Peter Keller is Professor & Research Program Leader of Music Cognition & Action at the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development in the Western Sydney University, Australia. He has previously held research positions at Haskins Laboratories (New Haven, USA), the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research (Munich, Germany), and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Leipzig, Germany), where he led the Max Planck Research Group for Music Cognition and Action. He holds a PhD in Psychology from The University of New South Wales.


Peter Keller conducts research that is aimed at understanding the behavioural and brain bases of human interaction in musical contexts. His specific interests include the cognitive and motor processes that enable ensemble musicians to coordinate with one another.


Selected publications


'Simultaneous Cooperation and Competition in the Evolution of Musical Behavior: Sex-related Modulations of the Singer’s Formant in Human Chorusing', with R. König & G. Novembre, Frontiers in Psychology [online], vol. 8, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01559, 2017.


'What can Music tell us about Social Interaction?', with A. D'Ausilio et al., Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 19, 2015, pp. 111-114.


'Ensemble Performance: Interpersonal Alignment of Musical Expression', in D. Fabian, R. Timmers & E. Schubert (eds), Expressiveness in Music Performance: Empirical Approaches Across Styles and Cultures, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014, pp. 260-282.


'Rhythm in Joint Action: Psychological and Neurophysiological Mechanisms for Real-time Interpersonal Coordination', with G. Novembre & M.J. Hobe, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B,[online],  doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0394, published 19 December 2014.


'Joint Action in Music Performance', in F. Morganti, A. Carassa & G. Riva (eds), Enacting Intersubjectivity: A Cognitive and Social Perspective to the Study of Interactions, IOS, Amsterdam, 2008, pp. 205-221.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Political Science
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline Environmental Biology
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin
discipline History