®The finest instrument is the mind.
Research Centre

Research Centre

Over the last two decades, scientists have been investigating how the brain processes music and the ways in which music and the study of music can affect various aspects of our lives. A deeper understanding of the mechanisms and effects of music-making can help both students and teachers achieve greater levels of success. Recognizing this, The Royal Conservatory of Music has launched a Research Centre to bring together top neuroscientists and educators, along with some of The Conservatory’s music students, to carry out world-class empirical research.

The Royal Conservatory of Music’s new Research Centre is dedicated to better understanding many different aspects of music education, development, and cognition. The Centre’s laboratory is equipped with state-of-the-art tools to measure neurological, acoustic, and behavioural factors underlying musical expertise and training, and is housed in the RCM’s downtown Toronto facility.

The RCM Research Centre works closely with the Marilyn Thomson Early Childhood Education Centre, Glenn Gould School, Royal Conservatory School, and other Royal Conservatory initiatives to better understand the effect that music can have on the brain and on other aspects of our lives. The Centre has established collaborations with scientists at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Hospital and McMaster University.

Led by Dr. Sean Hutchins, The Conservatory’s Research Centre is tackling questions such as how music and arts training can aid language and cognitive abilities, how musical expertise develops, the role of motor control in performance, and the effects of music on the developing and aging brain.

Current research projects underway at the RCM Research Centre include:

  • Early Childhood Education Research

    boy playing tambourineOne main research goal is to study the benefits that can arise from music education. There are many pieces of evidence that musicians perform better in many different aspects of life. Research is underway to help gain an understanding of the sources of these advantages and ways to better develop these abilities. A particular focus is in the area of cognitive skills that may translate to other aspects of life, such as attention and memory. The Research Centre is working with children from birth to age 5, and is measuring several aspects of their development as they participate in pilot classes using The Royal Conservatory’s newly developed Early Childhood Education curriculum.

  • Expert Musicianship Research

    singerResearchers in our lab have found heightened abilities among expert musicians. Our results have also demonstrated that musicians’ improved sensory abilities can translate into other domains, such as speech. The Research Centre is exploring the mechanisms of vocal performance, and looking at special abilities such as perfect pitch, in order to understand how the musical abilities of all people can be identified and improved. Our studies have been published in top journals, and use techniques including behavioural responses, acoustic analyses, and electroencephalography to obtain our results.

The aim of the Centre is to provide a scientific underpinning for The Conservatory, to help as we continue to develop new curricula and train the next generation of musicians. We believe that a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of music-making can help both teachers and students achieve greater levels of success.


Dr. Sean Hutchins is the Director of Research for The Royal Conservatory of Music. He received his Ph.D. from McGill University in 2008, and is trained in experimental psychology and neuroscience, with a specialization in the field of music cognition. He has published studies in many peer-reviewed journals, and his work has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, NBC, Scientific American Mind, and CBC Radio. Dr. Hutchins is considered to be a world expert in the study of vocal perception and production. He is also on the faculty of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behaviour at McMaster University.


If you would like to participate in one of our studies here at The Royal Conservatory, we have opportunities for people of all ages and experience. You’ll have the chance to learn more about the science of music cognition, and contribute to our understanding of the brain. All data is kept strictly confidential, and we offer compensation to all of our participants (financial or otherwise).

Participating in studies on music cognition is a fun way to enhance your appreciation of music and the mind. To learn more, write to research@rcmusic.ca and ask about our online survey.


In concert with our goal of learning about the minds of developing musicians, we also want to share this knowledge with our students, teachers, and the broader community. In the past decade, our understanding of the musical brain has grown exponentially. Scientists have studied the way people interact with music, with facets as varied as memory for music, emotional expression in music, music-specific deficits, spontaneous singing behaviours, health benefits of music, and brain regions associated with music. All of these have given us a much richer appreciation of the complexity of music and why it has played such an integral role in the development of societies through the ages.

At The Royal Conservatory, we will be hosting special sessions to share some of this knowledge with our students, where they will hear about not only the most recent findings, but also learn more about why these discoveries are important, and get a chance to meet the scientists performing this work. In addition, we will also be hosting larger sessions for the general public, where we will bring together scientists, musicians, and educators to discuss some of their work, including live performances demonstrating scientific principles. Information about upcoming sessions will be made available on our website.