Music expresses emotions and it excites emotions in the listener. There is a difference.
You can think that a piece of music sounds sad, but it can make you feel happy anyway, because it is played so well. Feelings that are expressed in music and feelings that music excites are not always the same.
Music induces emotions.
What are emotions? The words "feelings" and "emotions" are almost exchangeable in daily use. "Feelings" refers to how we experience things internally. But when the word "emotion" is used, it also includes physical reactions on an event.
For instance music literally can give you goose bumps or make your heart rate go up. What emotions are there? Psychologists make a distinction between basic emotions and complex emotions. A basic emotion fulfils at least the following conditions:
- Occurs in an early stage of life,
- Is expressed in an equal way in all cultures (for example in facial expression or movements),
- Is fundamental for our ability to adjust to other people and environments.
How many basic emotions are there? Generally there is agreement on the next four: Happiness, sadness, anger and fear. Of course music also induces more complex emotions. For instance do we feel longing, nostalgia and even pride when we listen to music.
Music expresses emotions.
What can music express? Some think that music just expresses music, nothing else. They say that music is "absolute". Others think that music can refer to other things. In music a story can develop. Music can express a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere. They say that music is "referential".
Usually others notice if we are happy, sad, angry or afraid. We express it by means of our body language (movements), our facial expression and our voice. One could say that those basic emotions are expressed in a similar way in music, for example by the musical form, pitch, tempo or volume:
- To jump of joy: Joy is uncomplicated and effortless. Happy music often has an uncomplicated form. The tones are high, the accent airy and the tempo fast.
- To collapse with grief: The tones are low and the articulation is legato (tones are tied to each other). The tempo is slow. The musical form is often more complicated and mirrors the complexity of sorrow.
N.B. A melody in minor is often perceived as sad in the western culture. Research has proven that young children don’t feel it that way. Apparently the idea: Major = happy, minor = sad is learned and culturally defined.
- The other two basic emotions, anger and fear, bring about unexpected movements and complications. In the music there are tempo- and volume changes and sudden interruptions. The form is often complex.
But is anger expressed in the same way as fear, musically? No it isn't. Will you be angry or afraid if the music sounds that way? If you want to know more about it, go to page: Music on prescription?