Half an hour Bach daily to calm down? A quarter of an hour Mozart for better marks?
No it doesn’t really work that way. The way that music affects us cannot be explained merely by the music.
It also depends on the listener and the situation he or she happens to be in. Each of these three categories, music, person and situation, includes many different factors. And the amount of possible combinations is even bigger. Some examples:
- Musical factors: Pitch, interval, key, timbre, tempo, rhythm, timing, articulation, melody, harmony, form and many others.
- Human factors: Age, gender, physical and mental status (tired, fit, good mood, stressed etc.), upbringing, education, profession, temperament, musical experience, preference and a lot more.
- Situational factors: acoustics, visibility of the musicians, their facial expression and movements, if you listen to live- or recorded music, where you listen (concert hall, pub, at home), if you are alone or with others and a lot more.
If there were only 10 different factors per category that would already give 1000 possible combinations. One could even say that there are as many possibilities as there are human beings. And that every piece of music is a unique piece of art.
So many pieces of music, so many possibilities! To do research on every specific combination is unrealizable.
But in spite of that general tendencies have been found in the way we experience music. It is examined how we experience different elements in music. Why do we think that a certain piece of music sounds happy, or sad or ceremonious? We relate certain characteristics in music to certain emotions.
Researchers let a lot of people listen to certain pieces of music. After that the people described how they had felt it. Then the music was analyzed on features like tempo, volume, rhythm, melody and others. The results are as follows:
Happiness: Fast tempo, major, relatively high volume, rather consonant than dissonant, high pitch level, light articulation: staccato, light timbre, fast attack, relatively uncomplicated musical form.
Sadness: Slow tempo, minor, relatively low volume, tendency to dissonance, low pitch level, legato articulation, dark timbre, slow attack, more complicated musical form.
Anger: Fast tempo, high volume, tendency to dissonance, staccato articulation, hard/sharp timbre, very fast attack and release, relatively complicated musical form.
Fear: Fast and/or irregular tempo, low volume, often big variations in tempo, volume, pitch level and other variables.
Activity/Energy/Excitement: Fast tempo, high volume, dissonance, staccato articulation, fast attack.
Tension: High volume, dissonance, ascending melody line, rhythmic and/or harmonic complexity.
Relaxation/Calm: Slow tempo, low volume, consonance, legato articulation, uncomplicated musical form.
Ceremony/Dignity: Slow tempo, relatively high volume, consonance, relatively low pitch level, regular and steady rhythm.
Tenderness/Love: Slow tempo, low volume, legato articulation, slow attack, soft timbre.
Explanation of some musical terms:
- Major: Key based on a scale that has a major third above the tonic.
- Consonant: Interval, harmony or chord that sounds harmonious to most people.
- Dissonant: Interval, harmony or chord that sounds inharmonious to most people.
- Articulation: The way the notes are played.
- Staccato articulation: The notes are played shorter than the noted duration.
- Timbre: The specific quality of a tone, an instrument or a voice.
- Attack: The way a sound begins. On a piano the onset or attack is defined by the speed with which a hammer touches the string.
- Minor: Key based on a scale that has a minor third above the tonic.
- Legato articulation: The tones are played as if they were attached to each other.