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Centre for Music and Science



John completed his PhD at the Division of Biological Anthropology in 2018 (supervised by Prof. Cross [CMS]).  This cross-disciplinary project sought to describe specific features of the human faculty for music -qualities and/or capabilities that are at once universally present and operational in music across cultures whilst also being specific to our species and to the domain of music.  Principally, he posits that configurations of musical pulse; musical tone; and musical motivation provide a particular and sustained attentional structure for managing personal experience and interpersonal/group interaction.  Music’s “design features” are therefore considered most fundamentally as a potentiating, quasi-architectural framework in which our most central affective and socio-intentional drives are afforded extended time, stability, and a degree of abstraction, intensity, focus and meaning.  In response to some critical gaps in our understanding of pitch and harmony in musical interaction and in related comparative analyses, he is also currently proposing a new experimental paradigm for investigating pitch matching and correction mechanisms in social interaction.  More details and full publications are available at


Key publications: 

Bispham, J.C. (2022). Music, Evolution and the Experience of Time.  Invited Chapter Submission for Oxford Handbook of Time in Music (Oxford University Press).

Bispham, J.C. (in preparation). Music’s evolutionary “design features”. To be submitted to Behavioural Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press).

Bispham, J.C. (2018). The Human faculty for music: What’s special about it?. PhD Thesis, Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

Bispham, J.C. (2012). How musical is Man? – An evolutionary perspective. Chapter in Sound Musicianship: Understanding the Crafts of Music. - 1/7 Meaningful Music Making for Life. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Bispham, J. C. (2010). Modelisation de la musique - motivation, pulsation et tonalites musicales. In Musique et Evolution Eds. Deliege, I., Vitouch, O. PSY Mardaga.

Bispham. J.C. (2009) – Music’s “design features”: Musical motivation, musical pulse, and musical pitch. Musicae Scientiae, special issue:  music and evolution.

Cross, I., Bispham, J., Himberg, T. & Swaine, J. (unpublished) – Evolution and musical rhythm. (Available at

Bispham, J.C. (2007) – Music as socio-affective confluential communication? Response to 'a commentary on Bispham’ (2006). Music Perception, 25;2

Bispham. J.C. (2006) - Rhythm in Music: What is it? Who has it? And Why? Journal of Music Perception, special issue on rhythm perception and performance, 24;2, 125-134.

Bispham, J.C. (2006) - Music means nothing if we don’t know what it means - lead review of ‘The Singing Neanderthals’ by S. Mithen. Journal of Human Evolution, 50, 587-593.

Bispham, J.C. (2004) – Bridging the Gaps – Music as a Biocultural Phenonmenon. Commentary on ‘In time with the music: The concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology’ by Clayton, M., Sager, R., & Will, U. ESEM Counterpoint 1.

Bispham, J.C. (2003) - An Evolutionary Perspective on the Human Skill of Interpersonal Musical Entrainment. Submitted in partial recognition of MPhil in Music Psychology.  Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge.

Dr John  Bispham

Contact Details

Not available for consultancy


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