Sabrina Chang

Research Topic

Cognitive ethnography of musicians during improvisational performance

Research Description

My doctoral research will be an ethnographic study of improvisational musicians, looking specifically at attention. One of the core aspects of human cognition is attention - that is, the mental processes involved in selecting and prioritizing information, shaping the way in which we think, make decisions and behave. With improvisatory musical performance, the spontaneous creation and exchange of musical ideas generates a discourse not dissimilar to spoken language. By investigating how these processes unfold, we not only learn more about music playing but about the specifics of the attentional systems we use in real-world conditions.

What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

I'm hoping that our findings can inform aspects of pedagogy and community building in both musical and non-musical contexts.

What has winning a major award meant to you?

I feel extremely honoured and fortunate to be awarded the SSHRC CGS Doctoral Scholarship and to be a part of the Killam family. Having my research recognized and valued this way gives me greater confidence in my work and allows me to devote myself to my studies. These awards will also help me greatly as I conduct fieldwork and attend conferences.

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

In terms of graduate life, I'm grateful for the freedom I have to explore and to ultimately choose the specific topics of research that are personally intriguing to me - but that, of course, also comes from having a very supportive supervisor.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

The Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program at UBC is a fantastic and extremely supportive program that enables students to expand the boundaries of research by combining areas of study across the arts and sciences.


Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

As a musician for most of my life and a piano teacher for many years I have long been fascinated by the cognitive processes involved in music-making, learning and listening. Pursuing graduate research was the perfect way for me to investigate these issues.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Grad school will be some of the best years of your life. The things you will achieve and the people you will meet will positively shape and impact you forever - so be excited!