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Language, Music and Text-setting


Admission requirements

Some prior knowledge of music theory is desirable, but not necessary.


This course is concerned with the relationship between language and music. We will examine their common cognitive grounding as well as their structural features, and we will consider their interaction in the mapping of linguistic material onto musical structures in songs (so-called ‘text-setting’).

It has often been observed that language and music are structurally similar. Both display some kind of hierarchical organization, alongside a temporal and a melodic structure. Moreover, they have a common timeframe of acquisition. In this course, we will review the main similarities and differences between the two systems.
Despite the similarities displayed by music and language at a very general level, little is known about their actual interaction in vocal music. Given the nature of the two systems involved, we would expect interactions to show up at one or more structural levels.
By means of examples drawn from different languages and vocal genres, we will examine the way features of speech such as stress, pitch and vowel length interact with analogous features in music, e.g. beats, intervals and durations, in singing.

Readings will cover topics related to the design and neurobiology of language and music, as well as current literature on text-setting.

Course objectives

Students have acquired the basic concepts and technical terminology related to the topic.
Students are able to compare language and music from a structural and functional perspective.
Students are able to identify the linguistic features relevant for text-setting.


2018-2019, second semester

Tuesday mornings, from 9.30 to 11.00 hrs.

First meeting: 12 February 2019
Last meeting: 23 April 2019

Exam: 30 April 2019.

No meeting on 19 March.

The workgroup meetings take place at the Johan Huizingagebouw, Doelensteeg 16, 2311 VL Leiden, room 26.
The exam takes place at the Academiegebouw, Rapenburg 73, 2311 SL Leiden, room: Kleine Auditorium.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load: 5 EC x 28 hours= 140 hours

  • Lectures: 15 hours

  • Preparation lecture: One or two compulsory readings per week, amounting to 2-4 hours of preparation per week.

  • Tutoring:

  • Study of compulsory literature: 40 hours

  • Assignment(s): 40 hours necessary to write an essay/paper, including reading secondary literature

  • Preparation exam: Each reading takes up around 2 hours. There are between 8 and 10 readings

  • Exam(s): 3 hours

  • Other components: 2 hours to discuss the topic of the individual essay with the instructor

Assessment method

The assessment

The assessment consists of an individual essay or oral presentation, followed by a written examination with short open questions.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Resit is possible only for the parts that were insufficient.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • sharing reading materials, classroom aids and similar

  • announcements

Reading list

The reading list will include, but is not limited to, the following titles: – W.T. Fitch. 2006. The biology and evolution of music: A comparative perspective. Cognition 100. 173-215. – R. Jackendoff / F. Lerdahl, 2006. The capacity for music: What is it, and what’s special about it? Cognition 100. 33-72. – A.D. Patel. 2008. Music, Language and the brain. Oxford. (selected chapters) – D. Schoen / R.L. Gordon / M. Besson. 2005. Musical and Linguistic Processing in Song Perception. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 71-81. – T. Proto. 2015. Prosody, melody and rhythm in vocal music: The problem of text-setting in a linguistic perspective. In: B. Köhnlein / J. Audring (eds.), Linguistics in the Netherlands [AVT 32]. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 116-129. – F. Dell / J. Halle. 2009. Comparing musical textsetting in French and in English songs. In: J.-L. Aroui & A. Arleo (eds.), Towards a typology of poetic forms. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 63–78. – D.R. Ladd. 2014. Singing in tone languages: An introduction to the kinds of things we might expect to find. Jahrbuch des Phonogrammarchivs der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 4, 13–28.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte
Registration (Contractonderwijs](


Dhr. ir. R.T.W.L. Schneemann
Mw. dr. Teresa Proto


Language, Music and Text-setting is open to, among others, all Leiden University (guest-)students and to all students of the Royal Conservatoire.

For other courses in the domains of music and fine arts, please visit:

  • Overview of elective courses in music and fine arts: []

  • Information about ACPA's education: Elective courses music and fine arts