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Adam Ockleford

Dr Adam Ockelford is a Professor of Music and Director of the Applied Music Research Centre at the University of Roehampton, London. He gained a BMus(hons) at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he gained two LRAMs (in the oboe and harpsichord) and won four prizes. He studied for a Diploma in Special Education (Visual Impairment) at the University of Birmingham in Birmingham, and earned his PhD in Music from the Goldsmith's College in London.


Adam has had a lifelong fascination for music, as a composer, performer, teacher and researcher. While attending the Royal Academy of Music in London, Adam started working with children with special needs - a number of whom, he noticed, had special musical abilities too - and he became interested in how we all intuitively make sense of music, without the need for formal education. Adam pursued this line of enquiry, and gained a PhD in music at Goldsmith's College in London in 1993, in which he set out his 'zygonic' theory of musical understanding. This theory has proved a valuable tool in music theory and analysis, in investigating musical development, and exploring interaction in music therapy and education.

Adam is Secretary of the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research ('SEMPRE'), Chair of Soundabout, an Oxfordshire-based charity that supports music provision for children and young people with complex needs; and founder of The AMBER Trust, a charity that supports visually impaired children in their pursuit of music.

Adam's research interests are in music psychology, education, theory and aesthetics - particularly special educational needs and the development of exceptional abilities; learning, memory and creativity; the cognition of musical structure and the construction of musical meaning. He welcomes enquiries from PhD students with any of these or related areas of interest.

How would you describe yourself?

I see myself as a Musician, Researcher and Teacher.


Are you doing today what you dreamed of when you were younger?

My transformative experience was working with the blind and those with Autism at the school that is across the road from my house. I started as a reluctant volunteer where I still teach 40 years later.


How do you describe what you do professionally?

I make learning enjoyable and expressive. Improvisation has always been a skill that musicians have always needed including from Baroque and Telemann.


What fascinates you?

Social inclusion is better these days than in the past in all walks of life. Children and their conditions are much more complex these days and there is a wider spectrum of need and ability. Special abilities: start with playing by ear and improvisation. Notation comes naturally but not as a starting point. Music is a proxy language. It develops in the brain before speech, and especially with babies, you make musical sounds with them more than speak to them. Psychological research is showing that these musical sounds are the underpinnings of melody there it is emerging that music is the foundation of speech.


What advice do you have for someone who wants a career doing what you do (or hope to do!)?

Aspiring teachers and musicians have always learned via the mentor-apprentice model with reflective practice.


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