The 8 components of musical emotion

Listening to music is quite common in our daily life. The most common reason for listening to music is to influence emotions. How does listening to music produce emotions and pleasure in listeners? The following is a list of factors associated with emotion in music.

1. Musical enjoyment.

Music is especially good for us. The pleasure of music appears to involve the same pleasure center in the brain as other forms of pleasure, such as food, sex, and drugs (Juslin 2019). Positive feelings tend to expand our state of mind in ways that benefit health and creative thinking. This explains the potential benefits of music on mental health. In addition, the emotions evoked by music predict whether people will decide to buy a song. The enjoyment of music may also explain why religious leaders feared that music would weaken the human moral fiber (Gioia, 2019).

2. Musical surprise.

Music can be experienced as pleasant both when it meets and violates expectations (eg, unexpected harmonies or the entry of a solo voice). The more unexpected the musical ingredients, the more surprising the musical experience. We appreciate the disturbances in musical patterns. For example, you may be surprised and surprised by the loud noise during a live concert (or the sound effects in a movie). It’s like when someone creeps up behind you and says “Boo”.

3. Evaluation.

Emotion is an evaluative attitude. The evaluation of music gives rise to emotions such as pleasure or displeasure. For example, nostalgia is the emotion most frequently evoked by music. Many listeners use music to remember precious past events (for example, Paul McCartney’s song “yesterday” is considered a gem of modern nostalgia).

4. Tendency to action.

Music often creates strong tendencies for action to move in coordination with the music (eg, dancing, stomping). For example, classical music has been used as a form of crowd control, such as in shopping malls to deter teenagers, or in public spaces to drive out homeless people. If you don’t identify with the music playing in a given space, then the space becomes an unpleasant place for your liking. However, the same space welcomes classical music lovers.

5. Be in sync.

Being in tune with the music is a source of pleasure. It is no coincidence that dance music makes people happy because it is easy to train (adapt) to its rhythmic pattern. Our internal rhythms (eg, heart rate) speed up or slow down to become one with the music. We float and move with the music.

6. Memory.

Memories are one of the important ways in which musical events evoke emotions. Much of our musical preferences reflect our individual learning. For example, some people may have fond memories associated with Elgar (Pomp and Circumstance) for graduation ceremonies, and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D major” (or Mendelssohn’s “Marriage March” in C major. ) For a wedding. People don’t forget about these emotional events.

7. Emotional contagion.

Another effect resulting from music is emotional contagion. Music not only evokes emotions on an individual level, but also on an interpersonal level. When people attend concerts, their emotions are in part influenced by the emotions of other people present. When sports fans sing together, their brains release the love hormone (oxytocin) which allows them to feel an emotional connection with the members of their group. This is why nations have national anthems.

8. Imaginary.

Imagination refers to the mental activity of imagining that what is perceived in music (eg, a story) is true. For example, imagining monsters during fear-evoking music improves fear responses. Imagining nature, such as mountains or fields, enhances our emotional responses to music like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. In the age of high digital technology, for some listeners, the easy country melody is a reminder of the ‘good old days’.

In short, music is capable of inspiring emotions (cries and laughter, and physiological responses). Music can be used to create an emotional atmosphere, for example soothing, relaxing, playful, heartfelt or intimate.


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Richard V. Johnson