Sam is a multifaceted researcher and performer who applies knowledge gleaned from her artistic experiences to understand why we enjoy moving to music.


Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, UNLV, Fall 2019
photo by Jessica Nave-Blodgett

Moving to music is a ubiquitous, and sometimes unconscious, phenomenon that occurs in our everyday lives. Many often find themselves tapping their foot or bobbing their head to the music on the car radio while stopped at a red light without even noticing. Sam’s current work investigates the neural underpinnings of why humans move to certain types of music. In particular, she is interested in the communication between motor and auditory brain areas when listening to music that’s “groovy”, or music that makes you want to move. She currently employs neuroimaging technologies such as electroencephalography (EEG) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to investigate the following research questions:

  • Can listening to “groovy” music promote widespread motor area activation?
  • Is the motor system important in perceiving and feeling the “groove”?
  • Is the “groove” a universal phenomenon and is it perceived across development?

Sam is currently pursuing this research as a Ph.D. student at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada. She is a member of the Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory and the UNLV Music Laboratory.

Sam has over 10 years of neuroimaging experience. She has received training in EEG and TMS at the University of California, Davis (ERP Boot Camp) and the University of Southern California (Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Workshop), respectively.

Before graduate school, Sam gained experience in other laboratories that has shaped her current interests in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. During her years at Northwestern University, she worked as a research assistant for the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory collecting data for research projects investigating how auditory training can shape neural listening, measured via the auditory brainstem response (ABR). Her biggest contribution was with the ANL’s collaboration with Harmony Project, a Los Angeles-based non-profit music organization that grants scholarships and music lessons to children from gang-reduction zones.

In between her undergraduate and graduate careers, she worked at the University of California, Los Angeles on a collaborative project between Think Now, Incorporated and the Staglin Center for Cognitive Neuroscience investigating the neural mechanisms of attention in those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They are currently running a clinical trial with ADHD-diagnosed participants using an original phone app to see if attention can be trained over a short period of time and whether those attentional gains are reflected biologically.

Sam’s career goals are to conduct music-related research in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Melding her scientific and artistic passions, she would like to continue investigating music and movement while extending her research to the health sciences. She has interests in studying how groovy music listening could alleviate symptoms of movement-related disorders such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease, as well as investigating how it can possibly benefit motor training in athletes.

Check out Sam’s research via ResearchGate, Google Scholar, Academia.edu, and her CV.


Sam is a versatile freelance violinist based in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. She has performed with Sin City Opera, Nevada Chamber Orchestra, Henderson Symphony, and David Perrico’s Pop Strings Orchestra. Sam often travels to Los Angeles to perform at weddings and other celebratory events with Put A String On It.

Sam has had many unique opportunities as a stage performer. Beginning in her teenage years, she has traveled internationally with orchestras playing classical music. With Chicago Tap Theatre, she broke out of her classical shell. Sam played onstage alongside her fellow dancers performing a wide array of original arrangements that encompassed pop and jazz genres. Sam has also rocked out with bands Trampled by Turtles and The Apache Relay at famous venues such as the Fonda Theater, the El Rey, and Lake Tahoe’s WinterWonderGrass Festival.

Sam is also a recording artist. She has been a featured musician for Los Angeles-based composer, Andrew Edwards, including his score for the film Alex & Ali.

Sam holds a degree in Violin Performance from Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music under the tutelage of Chicago Symphony Orchestra member, Blair Milton. She has also received violin instruction from James Sanders, Bill Kronenberg, Tamara Glassburg, Edgar Gabriel, Desiree Ruhstrat, Gerardo Ribeiro, and Mathias Tacke, as well as performed in masterclasses for Rachel Barton Pine, Alice Schoenfeld, and Mark O’Connor.


Sam is a seasoned tap dancer that hails from the Chicago, IL. She is based in Las Vegas, NV.

Sam shares her vivacious energy and passion for tap dancing through teaching at Evolve Dance Center. Previously, she has been on faculty at The Factory Dance and Sole Intensity Dance Academy.

Sam began her professional dance journey with Chicago Tap Theatre, a Windy City-based company that promotes tap dance through story-based shows and live music. To date, she has been the first and only company member to dance and play live music. With CTT, she has graced the stages of numerous venues across the United States performing works choreographed by artistic director, Mark Yonally, as well as by other tap dance legends including Brenda Bufalino and Max Pollak. Some of Sam’s performing highlights with CTT have been at the Sunday Poetry Slam at Chicago’s Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Stam-Pede at New York City’s Symphony Space, and Spring To Dance in St. Louis, MO, as well as in CTT productions of Tidings of Tap!, Eyes Without a Face, and Totally Tap-ular!.

In Las Vegas, Sam has performed with alongside a myriad of talented artists such as Victoria Jones, Megan McBride Moore, Sean and John Scott, Tony Coppola, and Jason Kalish for events like the ArtLIVE! Gala at the Smith Center, CW Las Vegas Channel 3 News, the Super Summer Theatre Annual Gala, and the Las Vegas Tap Festival Showcase.

Sam is also an experienced director and choreographer. As five-year member of Northwestern University’s premier student tap dance company, TONIK Tap, she led the group as artistic director creating multiple collaborative performances with a capella groups, other dance groups, and alumni.

Contact Info:

It’s best to reach Sam by email at samroconnell@gmail.com. Make sure to keep up with her on the news page and social media!

photos by Alex Kay Sullivan (www.everydaykay.com)