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Karen Chan Barrett


Growing up in the suburbs of Boston, Karen Chan Barrett started playing piano at the age of 5, and during her childhood, studied in the preparatory programs at the New England Conservatory of Music and Longy School of Music. As a soloist, Karen gave several solo piano recitals as well as performing piano concertos with local Boston orchestras. Karen has attended the Aspen Music Festival, Bowdoin Music Festival, Triple Helix Chamber Music Summer Workshop, and the Yellow Barn (Putney) Chamber Music Intensive. She has also participated in masterclasses with Leon Fleisher, Edward Auer, and Victor Rosenbaum.

She graduated from Wellesley College in 2006 as a double-major in Music and Neuroscience, benefiting from the mentorship of her primary advisors Lois Shapiro, Charles Fisk, and Martin Brody. She then attended Peabody Conservatory of Music, where she attained dual master’s degrees in Musicology (studying with Piero Weiss and Richard Giarusso) and Piano Performance (studying under Marian Hahn). At Peabody, Karen refined her performance skills while researching the life and works of Maurice Ravel, in particular the historical context of his piano set Miroirs.

After Peabody, Karen entered the Ph.D. program in music theory and cognition at the Bienen School of Music, Northwestern University and graduated in March 2015. Karen’s dissertation research focused on factors that influence attention when listening to multiple musical lines. Specifically, Karen investigated how musical structure and elements of an individual’s musical training affect where attention is directed when listening to Baroque imitative counterpoint. Karen’s interdisciplinary work took place in the Northwestern University Music Cognition Lab at as well as at the Auditory Neuroscience Lab, combining perceptual studies with neurobiological studies. Karen was co-advised by Richard Ashley and Nina Kraus, and she has presented her work at several conferences including the International Conference of Music Perception and Cognition, the Society for Music Theory conference, and the Neurosciences and Music IV (Learning and Memory) conference. Karen teaches introductory music cognition classes as an adjunct faculty member at the Peabody Institute of Music and Johns Hopkins University and also currently works for the Retrospective Index for Music Periodicals (, a scholarly non-profit that preserves, digitizes, and provides access to music periodicals from 1760-1966.


Lee KM, Barrett KC, Kim Y, Lim Y, Lee K (2015). “Dance and Music in ‘Gangnam Style’: How Dance Observation Affects Meter Perception.” PLoS ONE 10(8): e0134725. doi:10.1371 journal.pone.0134725.

Chan Barrett, Karen, Richard Ashley, Dana Strait, and Nina Kraus. “Art and Science: How Musical Training Shapes the Brain,” Frontiers in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience (2013) 4:713. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00713.

Strait, Dana, Karen Chan, Richard Ashley, and Nina Kraus. “Specialization among the Specialized: Auditory Brainstem Function is Tuned into Timbre,” Cortex 48, no. 3 (2012): 360-62.


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