Real Voices interview: Dr Adrian North

Meet Adrian, a music psychologist based in Edinburgh

For many of us, listening to music is a big part of our lives and identity. Dr Adrian North, a music psychologist, studies music from the listener’s point of view. He tells Chrissie Giles a little about his work.

(This interview was conducted in 2009. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers advice was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections.)

What do you do?

I’m a music psychologist and Director of Psychology at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

How did you first get into music?

I started playing the guitar at age ten and still play now, although I am absolutely terrible! A career as a musician was never a possibility.

What part does music play in your life?

While lots of music psychologists study the process of making music, I examine the listener’s point of view. One thing I’m exploring at the moment are the possible negative effects of rap and heavy rock music on young people. I also research the use of music in commercial environments such as restaurants and shops, which is a multimillion-dollar worldwide industry. My research means that I have become sensitised to the music that we hear around us, and I’ve realised how prevalent music is in our everyday lives. Also, I’m sure I’ll be monitoring what my son listens to when he’s older!

Who has been the greatest musical influence on you?

It has to be the Beatles: clearly the best band in the world! They have wonderful melodies combined with wonderful musicianship and wonderful lyrics. There’s also the cultural aspects: they were at the forefront of the change that showed pop music could be art.

Why do we have music?

It’s clear that people use music as a badge of identity, but they also use it as a medicine – dosing themselves throughout the day to get what they want from a situation. Just think of the kind of music used in gyms.

iPods and other technology are changing the way we use music. When I was doing my A levels I’d walk around college with a bag full of cassettes, which still only covered a tiny proportion of my music collection. Now, people can take their entire collections with them. For many young people today, listening to music is a much more throwaway experience. There will be times when you really get into the music, but sometimes it’s just sonic wallpaper, on in the background.

What’s your desert island disc?

It has to be the Beatles’ ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, the most tuneful of the lot.

Salary guide (2017)

Postdoctoral researcher: £25,000–£35,000 (Prospects).

Essential subjects (2017)

To study psychology at university you’ll need three A levels, with some universities asking for biology (Which? University).

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Music, Mind and Medicine’ in June 2009 and reviewed and updated in November 2017.

Careers, Psychology
Music, Mind and Medicine
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Undergraduate, Continuing professional development