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janesix
Posts: 3,465
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8/10/2016 9:01:11 PM
Posted: 3 months ago
Why does music create emotional responses in humans?

It cant just be the lyrics, as purely instrumental music does this as well.
ShaneMcG
Posts: 22
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8/17/2016 1:47:13 AM
Posted: 3 months ago
At 8/10/2016 9:01:11 PM, janesix wrote:
Why does music create emotional responses in humans?

It cant just be the lyrics, as purely instrumental music does this as well.

Good question!

Some of it has to do with the combination of sound waves. Pitches within the same harmonic series generally sound more pleasing since the composite sound waves are relatively simple and easy for us to process. Other intervals, such as minor seconds, sound harsh because the composite sound wave is complex and hard for us to process.

Some of it also has to do with experience. Just like we learn to associate different colors with different ideas and emotions (red is powerful, and purple symbolizes royalty and wealth), we also learn to associate certain harmonies, intervals, pitches, rhythms, meters, and dynamic contrasts with different ideas and emotions. The examples I'll use come from traditional Western music, since that's what I've studied.

Harmony is one of the bigger factors in drawing out emotions. First of all, certain keys can suggest certain emotions. Keys with flats tend to sound warmer, whereas keys with sharps tend to sound brighter. Major keys tend to suggest emotions on the happy end of the spectrum, whereas minor keys sound more sad or pensive. Some of this has to do with the interval structure, but a lot of it comes from experience. Composers will often use certain keys to portray specific emotions, like Beethoven using Eb major to portray heroism. Those of us in Western countries grew up hearing his Eroica Symphony and Emperor Piano Concerto (both of which are in Eb), so often we will subconsciously associate a big Eb major chord with heroic ideas.

Rhythm, meter, and tempo also play a large role in the emotions of music. Faster rhythms create a sense of business, which, when paired with different harmonies and melodies, can sound excited or frantic. Dotted rhythms often sound fanfare-ish or majestic, especially with a moderately slow tempo. Compound or triple meters often sound dance-like, such as with waltzes or sarabandes.

Dynamic contrasts also affect the mood of the music. A lot of times crescendos add tension, and are used leading up to a climax. The abruptness of the dynamic change also plays a role. Long crescendos build tension and excitement over time, but are not as startling as a subito (sudden) dynamic change. Long decrescendos into nothing (niente) can sound calming, pensive, or sad.

Another more complex factor is timbre, which is portrayed through orchestration. For example, brass and battery percussion add power and strength to the strings and woodwinds. Instruments with more of the higher harmonics sound brighter and sometimes happier, whereas instruments with more of the fundamental sound darker and more calm.

All of this, and the lyrics, combine into the feelings we have when we listen to music, and most of the time it's subconscious. There's probably other reasons I don't know, but these are the reasons that I do understand.