Edinburgh Research Explorer

Dr Nikki Moran

Senior Lecturer

Willingness to take Ph.D. students: Yes

Projects related to musical interaction and performance research.
Empirical studies of musician interaction and nonverbal communication.

Education / Academic qualification

Bachelor of Music, City University London
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Open University
Measuring Musical Meaning: analysing communication in embodied musical behaviour
Master of Music, University of Cambridge
Interaction in and as North Indian classical music


I joined Music at Edinburgh in September 2007 after postgraduate research at Open University and University of Cambridge, and a teaching post at the University of East London. During my BMus degree at City University, London, I studied classical viola performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and took weekly classes in North Indian classical music performance with Prof. Gerry Farrell. I subsequently studied as a sitar student of Pandit Arvind Parikh in Mumbai, India. From 2002 to 2007, I busked regularly and led workshops in North Indian music for schools and community music projects. I enjoy everyday music making with local ensembles and friends. I play viola regularly with ensembles in Edinburgh and Glasgow including Edimpro, Grey Area and GIO (Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra), and occasional concerts with ensembles including Orchestra of the Canongait.

My teaching and research reflect my fascination with the relationship between musical performance and everyday social interaction. I specialise in the study of musicians’ communicative behaviour and have published theoretical and original empirical research in this area. My work combines fieldwork and ethnography, with controlled experimental design.

I led the development of Music's new 4-year undergraduate programme, Music - MA (Hons), and teach on various core and elective undergraduate courses. I supervise a number of PhD students. I am is currently Music's Postgraduate Research director. I am a scientific committee member of the Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD), and a Visiting Researcher at Durham University for the AHRC-funded Interpersonal Entrainment In Musical Performance Project (2016-18).

I have taken two periods of maternity leave from 2010-11 and 2014-15. I will be on sabbatical leave from Sep-Dec 2016.

Research Interests

  • Music as social interaction
  • Musicians’ communicative behaviour
  • Psychology of music/embodied music cognition
  • Oral/improvised music performance

My research interests and projects all revolve around the relationship between musical performance - especially improvised performance - and everyday social interaction. For example, the conversations we have in daily life are a sort of improvised performance. Think of meeting a friend, buying a sandwich, holding a door open for someone: there’s no precise script for how these encounters run. They are collaborations where two or more people respond to one another using all sorts of nonverbal cues and nuances. Likewise, very few music performance traditions the world over actually rely on scores or notation (and those performances that do are never exactly the same twice!), so we can think of improvised performance as a type of expert communication.

Some of my work has focused on North Indian musicians, using ethnography and video analysis to study performers’ nonverbal behaviour. I saw that accompanists used precisely-timed nonverbal gestures to give 'feedback' to the soloist, in a way that resembles the behaviour of speakers and listeners in everyday conversations. This work (my doctoral research) contributed to the AHRC-funded Experience and Meaning in Music Performance project, directed by Prof. Martin Clayton (Durham University). I’ve also written about the performers’ own views of successful musical communication, describing how this depends on an ‘acting out’ of relationships between the performers.

In the Improvising Duos project, we used motion capture technology to look at duo improvisation with jazz and free improvising musicians. We’ve created an original database of recordings, and through this we’re exploring the kinematics of joint improvisation. One example from this project is an experiment about whether people can tell the difference between a pair of musicians who are performing as a duo, compared to two musicians made to look as though they are engaged in duo performance, but who did not at any point play together.

In short, I’m interested in what we can learn about music as a form of communication, and vice-versa: what this type of empirical music research can teach us about social behaviour generally.

Research outputs

  1. Performing music, performing musicality

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

  2. Determining the end of a musical turn: Effects of tonal cues

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

View all (23) »

Research projects

  1. Interpersonal Entrainment in Music Performance

    Project: Other ProjectResearch Collaboration with external organisation

  2. Grey Area

    Project: Other ProjectOther (Non-Funded/Miscellaneous)

View all (4) »

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