Professor centers blog on psychological aspects of musical performance
Associate Professor of Music Education Robert Woody has begun blogging for Psychology Today's website. "Live... in Concert: Motivation, emotion and the questions that keep musicians up at night" will center on the psychological aspects of musical performance.
His first post in March, titled "Taking Stock Before Taking the Stage," examined the connections between thinking and performance success.
"I don't have a degree in psychology. My training is in music and music education," Woody said. "It's interesting that [Psychology Today] are interested in hearing more of a music perspective to the topic than just psychologists dabbling in music. I'm more of a music educator dabbling in psychology. I guess the dabbling has grown into more than I thought it would."
The main Psychology Today website typically generates five million visitors or "hits" per month, and every blog post spends some time on the main page.
Woody began getting involved with social media about a year ago to get the word out about his research and topics of interest to him.
"I have a friend, Andy Bretz, who works in advertising and public relations. We were talking about branding," he said. "He told me I could use social media to share what I'm interested in with other musicians, music educators and creative artists."
With that friend's guidance, Woody began his own personal blog, titled "Being Musical. Being Human," where he discusses topics, including music education, music psychology and creativity. He also began using Twitter and Facebook to boost his online presence. An editor at Psychology Today saw his blog and asked him to begin writing for their site on the psychology of music performance.
"I was pretty flattered to do it," Woody said. "Psychology Today is a big outlet."
Originally from Omaha, Woody received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he majored in trumpet performance and composition. He described his own high school music experience as kind of a "mixed bag."
"There were some really good aspects of it that led me to want to continue in music, but there were other aspects that made me realize I didn't want to become my high school band director,'" Woody said. "That was naive on my part to think that being a music teacher only meant that."
When he went to graduate school at Florida State University, he became more open to all the possibilities for careers in music and music education.
"I was able to learn that music education has the flexibility and variation for people to teach what they're passionate about," he said. "Music is a huge, huge field."
Woody became interested in broadening music education, which led him to pursue his Master of Music Education, Master of Science in Educational Research and his Ph.D. in Music Education at Florida State University.
"I'm a big proponent of band, choir, orchestra - all the traditional offerings. I hope they continue to stay strong," he said. "I also hope school music expands to become more reflective of the entirety of the musical world in which we live."
While pursuing his graduate studies at Florida State University, he worked with Dr. Jack Taylor, a former editor of the Journal of Research in Music Education and former editor of the journal Psychomusicology. At the same time, he also had a work-study job with Andreas Lehmann, who was doing post-doctoral work in the Department of Psychology in collaboration with the Center for Music Research.
"I started as a work-study student, making copies of journal articles for him. I guess I started reading what I was copying, and I started to ask him questions," Woody said. "He's a really great teacher, so when he had a work-study student asking him questions, he jumped on it. He was happy to get me involved in higher level things other than making copies."
Woody began coding and entering data for him and administering experiments. Eventually the two later became colleagues. In 2007, Lehmann and Woody, along with John Sloboda, published the book, Psychology for Musicians: Understanding and Acquiring the Skills."
Woody is beginning to work on his next book, which has a working title of "Becoming Musical."
"It will, in plain language, track the processes by which people become musical," Woody said. "It could be of interest to music educators, but also performing musicians who also teach."
Woody is interested in reaching people who don't get music education training, per se, but who teach private lessons or work in other music studio settings.
"I think psychology has a lot to offer musicians. It addresses how emotion works, and how sound and language is expressive. It can also provide insight into the technical skills of performance," he said. "Playing an instrument is kind of an amazing psychomotor feat. Just coordinating performance - you're listening to yourself, you're listening to others, you're playing this machine with your hands and face, you may be reading music with your eyes, you're listening with your ears - it's incredible! So I'm certain psychology, and the human sciences more generally, have something to offer musicians."
He and Lehmann are also working on a study on musicians playing by ear, and Woody plans to continue writing his own blog.
"As I writer, I thought blogging would help me to be more of a fluent, 'natural' writer. I'm interested in becoming a better writer and making it more accessible to people outside of academia," Woody said. "I'm writing these things for the musicians and teachers and just people who love music, who aren't interested in wading through the academic jargon and scientific speak. The fact that it has maybe opened up some new opportunities, in terms of traveling and speaking, is really a fringe benefit."
Woody, who has been at UNL since 2001, said he loves the campus environment here.
"I love working at what is now a Big Ten institution," he said. "The travel support and other support we have here, and the leadership we have here - we just have some really good things going on here."