Sensory Learning

PhD project by Jaco van den Dool

Sensory Learning

What is the role of the body in musical learning processes? With two case studies in Nepal and the Netherlands, I examine how bodily interaction is conducive to the acquisition of musical knowledge and skills. Both complementary case studies show how young musicians acquire musical knowledge and skills by sensing the other, through patterns of ‘intermusical’ and ‘intersensory’ learning strategies.

The main goal of this research is scrutinizing the music transmission and learning process of young musicians in band formations in Nepal and The Netherlands. This study seeks to understand the complex role of the body in musical learning processes in order to contribute to the understanding and implementation of intermusical and intersensory modes of transmission in formal music education.

Central to this research is the concept of ‘intermusicality’.This concept of intermusicality can be applied to our understanding of the multifarious field of music learning, without associating a specific learning strategy to a particular music style. Largely due to the Internet, children are able to become multimusical (Nettl, 2005), vastly increasing their exposure on various musical styles and languages. In the daily practice of music learning, these music styles and systems are, however, not learned with a distinct set of musicalities, but acquired with a general musical ability, defined here as intermusicality (Monson, 1996; O’Flynn, 2005).

This research seeks to understand how intermusicality is shaped. I assume that the senses play an essential role in the process of intermusicality. In this study not only the visible and audible senses are considered, but the tactile sense, including touch, is also under investigation. Since it is taken for granted that the eye, followed by the ear, plays a major role in education (van Ede, 2009; Hoes, 2005), the focus on other senses is relatively understudied. Therefore, music transmission has been usually researched with an emphasis on vision and hearing, whereas the transmission process entails a full set of sensory experiences, such as vision, hearing, touch, participatory discrepancies and gestures. These somatic sensations or unexplored bodily sensations, that arise during music transmission, will be scrutinized in this research

My first case study in Kathmandu, Nepal, demonstrates that the merging of musical styles requires blending modes of appropriation or the merging of learning strategies and skills, referred to as intermusicality. It seems that, for teenagers in Kathmandu, unfamiliar musics such as jazz and rock are not always accessible. Their local music holds a prominent place in their soundscape. Due to daily absorption and immersion in local musical material, this local music becomes ingrained in their musical bodies. Nevertheless, popular music plays a major role in youth culture, increasingly so in developing countries (Greene, 2001). Driven by curiosity and encouraged by gatekeepers such as family members, friends, the Internet, and teachers, youngsters overcome various constraints and actively explore musical practices of unfamiliar musics through innovative blending of learning strategies into three degrees of intermusical learning. Intermusical learning highlights the important implication for music education in general that youngsters do not learn musics with a distinct set of separate musicalities (O’Flynn, 2005), but acquire different music styles with a blended set of learning strategies. Understanding these blended learning strategies contributes to a musical learning environment where teachers, instead of deploying a fixed method of musical learning, employ blended, intermusical methods of learning to improve the learning process.

Furthermore, this study shows how the body plays an essential role in the learning process. The use of various forms of interaction, gestures, and entrainment demonstrate a highly developed deployment of the body to learn music. The findings of the video-analysis of this case study allow me to hypothesize that musical knowledge arises out of bodily interaction between the band members. There seems to be a link between melodic, harmonic, rhythmic aspects of the music, the forms of interaction, gestures, and entrainment, and the acquisition of musical knowledge and skills.

The second case study in Amsterdam seeks to be complementary to the previous one in Kathmandu. This study aims at developing a sensory model to analyse the role of the body as a learning tool in acquisition of musical knowledge and skills. With this model I strive to demonstrate how sensory patterns and musical communication are employed in different phases of practicing.  Furthermore, it demonstrates how intersensory learning gives access to musical knowledge.

In order to link the notions of human musical interaction I will develop a sensory pathway. For this I borrow Howes’ (2005) notion of sensual relations in which postulates that senses are placed in an hierarchical order depending on the activity and cultural context. Often the senses are deployed at the same time, operating in harmony, confusion or conflict. Intersensoriality, stresses Howes, is by no means a sensory state of equality or harmony, but rather hierarchically ordered (Howes, 2006). A consideration of intersensory merging of the senses will help to understand musical learning processes. It stands to reason that youngsters acquire musical knowledge by sensing the other, through a complex network of ‘intersensory’ (Ibid.) experiences following sensory patterns of auditory, kinaesthetic, and visual learning, through interaction, gestures, and entrainment. Studying this pattern of intersensory relations gives us access to how musicians learn to make sense of their musical world. Understanding these patterns is conducive to embodied music education and caters to the body-minded learning strategies of students.

Research team

Jaco van den Dool, MA

PhD Candidate

Portrait Jaco van den Dool

Prof. dr. Koen van Eijck


Portrait Koen van Eijck


  • van den Dool, J. (2016). Blended Modes of Music Learning: Shaping Intermusicality in Kathmandu. Asian Music47(2), 84-113.
  • van den Dool, J. (2014). Luisteren met je lichaam. Kunstzone 1.
  • van den Dool, J. (2014). Intermusicality and Embedded Lifelong Learning. Sharing4Good: Kathmandu.
  • van den Dool, J. & Warmerdam, S. (2013). School of Performing Arts Kathmandu: een sociaal cultureel initiatief aan de voet van de Himalaya. Kunstzone 5.
  • van den Dool, J. (2012). Leren met het muzikale oog. Cultuur + Educatie nr.35. Cultuurnetwerk Nederland, Utrecht.
  • van den Dool, J. (2012). De muzikale route van A naar B: Het continuüm van muzikaal leren en de rol van intermuzikaliteit in verschillende leeromgevingen in Kathmandu, Nepal. Cultuurnetwerk.
  • van den Dool, J., van Eijck, K., Kom, L. & Peters, M. (2012). De effecten van cultuureducatie op schoolprestaties, creativiteit en welbevinden. Paper voor de Conferentie “Onderzoek in Cultuureducatie” Cultuurnetwerk i.s.m. Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam 21 juni 2012, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam. Article available online

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