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Background Research

Psychological Background Information


Music, deriving from the Ancient Greek term mousa, meaning muse; is an art form based around the
organization and arrangement of sound and silence in space and time, with use of elements such as melody,
pitch, timbre, harmony, rhythm, tempo and dynamics (Music.). Music, said to date back to the beginning of
human existence, can be traced back as far as cave paintings depicting people dancing. The earliest musical
instruments are said to be 40,000 years old (Orford). This brings us to ask the question, what is the purpose of
music? The purpose of music varies from artist to artist and has developed over the ages due to preference
change, and cultural and religious importance. The primary purpose of music is to entertain, however it is also to
communicate. In 1400 a common western music style was polyphony, it was used to reflect god's mind by
mimicking the movement of the universe and the orbit of planets around the sun. It consisted of a collection of
independently moving voices. By the 1600s opera was introduced. It used harmony to follow the emotional
paths of man. By the mid 1700s, the age of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, music had taken so many new paths,
for the purpose of communicating nationalism, new found freedom and emotion. Currently music is used for a
variety of reasons, such as story telling, expressing emotion or sending a message (Thomas).
According to Dr. Hauke Egermann, a Belgian music psychologist, there are four main methods in which
humans identify emotions from music. The first method is called learned association and relates to learning to
associate musical patterns with certain emotions based on cultural standards. For example associating features
from a happy song you heard in a movie or tv show to other songs and recognizing them as happy. Similar to the
theme song from the tv show 'Friends' (Egermann).
Another method includes musical expectations. This is based on learning styles and patterns in music, a
figurative log book of how certain musical patterns play out, built up through experience. Probabilities of patterns
and syntax in a song. An example of this occurrence is when you are listening to a song for the first time and yet
you are still able to anticipate the next move. This creates expectations. The anticipation of something you enjoy
may lead to pleasure, where music that is unpredictable and has unfamiliar patterns may lead to tension,
surprise or arousal (Egermann).
Expressive Emotional Movement refers to the association of musical elements to human behaviours
related to certain emotions. Characteristics of a happy person include moving quickly, being louder, having a
lighter, brighter tone and higher pitch to their voice. Similarly music that is often perceived as happy usually has
a faster tempo, is louder, is higher pitched and has a lighter tone. However the behaviour of someone who is sad
is often slower, they're often quieter and their voices are often lower in pitch with a dull tone. This is the same for
sad music (Egermann).
The final method discussed by Dr. Egermann is activating sound. When emotions are felt it activates the
sympathetic nervous system and affects the production of sound by means of vocal musculature. This causes

sounds made by someone who is happy to be higher in pitch and similarly those listing to a happy song can
recognize these traits, sympathize and feel happy too (Egermann).
According to Kathleen A. Goricall and E. Glenn Schellenberg at the University of Toronto, Mississauga,
traits in music imitate those of vocal emotional expression, and music can cause not only basic emotional
triggers in listeners, such as happiness or sadness (even though those are the two most expansive terms) but
also more complex emotions such as nostalgia or wonder. In 'The Handbook of Psychology of Emotion' Gorical
and Schullenberg explain that musical elements such as tempo, pitch, timbre, tone and dynamics can trigger
emotions in humans, because they mimic vocal cues of emotions and cause listeners to empathize and feel
similar emotions (Corrigall).
Tempo, otherwise known as rhythm is the pace at which a song is played. Tempo can be used to
express emotion. It is an essential element of music and often sets the mood for the entire song. Through
experience many people have learned that songs that have a slow tempo often make you sad, where songs
with a fast tempo can make you happy or even frightful. However it wasn't until the 1930s that anyone
attempted to find evidence for this. Kate Hevner Mueller began conducting experiments in order to prove this
theory in 1930, she asked her subjects to express their emotions through pieces of music in which the only
change was a specified musical element, such as tempo or pitch. She concluded that the tempo of a song was
one of the most emotionally influential elements of music, and that it was capable of being identified as basic
emotions, such as happy or sad (Madden).
Pitch is the relative deepness or highness of a note or tone. It is used to describe sound. Pitch is known
to influence the perception of music. People use pitch in speech in order emphasize the emotions that they feel.
Similarly pitch is used in music to portray emotions. Higher pitches and lighter tones are often associated with
happiness or carelessness. Lower pitches on the other hand are often associated with sadness, darkness and
anger (Paterson).
The key of a song is said to have a large influence over the audience's emotional perception. There are
two types of keys. The major key and the minor key. The key of a song can change the song's tone. For example
the key of C Major is said to be perceived as innocent, simple and pure, where C minor is often perceived as
obscure and sad. Generally major keys sound happy and positive, and minor keys sound sad and negative. Major
keys often contain higher notes. Minor keys often consist of a mixture of both high and low notes (Archon). This
can be associated with human behaviour. When people are sad they use lower tones in their voices and when
people are happy they use lighter and higher tones (Egermann).