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How does music express emotion?

 
 
Gilbey
 
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 01:37 pm
I read this question in a book and it got me thinking. When we here a piece of music, we hear the sound and then we connect that sound with an emotion, be it happy, sad, scared. But do we hear the sound and then in our minds connect it with an emotion, or do we hear the sound and then that sound gives rise to an emotion inside us? When someone says "I am sad", you can only go on what they say, but when we hear a "sad" song, we seem to instinctively know it is a sad song, without having to explain why it is sad. It seems that music expresses emotion better than words.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 3 • Views: 5,909 • Replies: 23
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 01:46 pm
Gilbey,

I have little doubt that you will find answers to this psychological question with a Google search. For example there must be literature on the differential association of major and minor keys with elation and depression. I would imagine that experiments have even been done recording from areas of the brain associated with pleasure and pain.
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Gilbey
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 01:49 pm
Thank you for the comment, but you may have snuffed out any sort of debate.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 01:54 pm
I don't think so. There are several musicians like JLN here who can discuss the finer points of "sound" versus "music" and the fact that the latter is more than a "bunch of sounds"with a history of cultural associations.
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 02:50 pm
Two books that you might find useful, if you haven't already perused them, are Susanne Langer's Feeling and Form and Leonard Meyer's Emotion and Meaning in Music.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 03:50 pm
http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Music_00.html
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 06:19 pm
I tend to associate music with "feelings" rather than the grosser categories of emotion. There are exceptions, of course.

I agree, Fresco, that culture helps to shape our responses to both musical sounds (and sometimes that includes "noice", as in much contemporary music) and the sensations of visual art. Compare deKoonings scraped away color areas with much of the discordant effects in "new" music and the "broken" voice of Bob Dylan and his descendants with operatic effects or Heifetz with blue grass fiddling. Culturally derived "tastes" make all the difference, wouldn't you say?
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 06:37 pm
JLNobody wrote:
Culturally derived "tastes" make all the difference, wouldn't you say?


Absolutely. After reading Scott Burnham's book Beethoven Hero, which argues that the "heroism" associated with Beethoven's works largely inheres in the structure of the music itself, a friend of mine tried to test this theory by playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to his wife, who did not know the piece all that well and, being from South Africa, did not have the same "emotional" associations to Western tonality that are usually taken for granted. Not surprisingly, his wife found nothing "heroic" in the music at all. It's not that she found the music un-heroic; it's that heroism did not even appear on her emotional radar in relation to the piece.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Jan, 2008 07:50 pm
Shapeless, a good ethnomusicological observation.
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Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 12:14 pm
Music is not processed in the logical, objective, verbal centers of the brain.
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 04:04 pm
Though that is not to say that it can't have logical, objective, or verbal appeal, if that is the nature of one's tastes. There are quite a lot of composers who have tried to write such music, at any rate.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 04:50 pm
i'm not aware of the scientific literature on this matter, if there is any, but it's my guess that music is processed by many, if not all, parts of the brain.
As I understand it right-brain processes always include left-brain processes and vice versa. It's really a matter of dominance. In doing art, i.e., painting with a posture of intuition and unconscious expression, the right side of my brain is dominant, but contributions from the left brain are by no means absent; they may even be required.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Jan, 2008 05:07 pm
My earlier link may throw some light on this matter so I repeat it for convenience.

http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Music_00.html
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najmelliw
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 05:55 am
Pardon me for intrusing here, but when I read shapeless' experiment with Beethoven's fifth and his wife, it got me thinking.
I would like to pose several variables as to why his wife who, no doubt, is as intelligent as her husband is, failed to detect qualities in the music that other people in fact DO hear.
1) She is a woman. While I am not saying that heroism as such is a male only territory, I do think (must have read it somewhere) that such emotions are more inherent to males then to females.
2) She is, as Shapeless stated, not familiar with this kind of music. To make sure this is not a simple re-iteration, I'd like to add that even we may not find such qualities anymore, simply because We are not anymore entrenched n the same cultural society as Beethoven and his contemporary listeners.

This one is difficult, but basically I argue that, in order to fully appreciate the impact any piece of art, be it music or a painting, had in it's day, we must understand its relative value in the society it was created in.
I am quite sure that Beethiven, being a popular composer and all, had a wide gathering of listeners. These people would, no doubt, share a quite similar background as far as musical compositions is concerned, simply because there were so few ways open to experience music. This is a completely different world then today, where every single individual in modern countries (and many in the underdeveloped countries as well) has access to many different types of music(radios can be found all over the world after all) and can easily define his own taste, by use of MP3, Ipod, etc. Whether this heightens, or perhaps dulls our perception of music is not a topic I wish to comment on, but it certainly makes our appreciation of music different from theirs.

Beethoven lived in a period of emerging nationalism, and he stood at te cradle of the Romantic era. These two facts IMHO certainly factor in the inherent 'heroïsm' of his music.

I rest my case.
Well, at least my 2 cents.
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 12:57 pm
najmelliw wrote:
...I argue that, in order to fully appreciate the impact any piece of art, be it music or a painting, had in it's day, we must understand its relative value in the society it was created in.


As a music historian I certainly agree, but it is worth pointing out that the "impact" of any artwork is not restricted to or even bound by the value it had in its original context. Value is something that accrues to an artwork over time, and audiences from different eras will invest an artwork with different (sometimes radically opposing) meanings and values. That is why, today, the Star-Spangled Banner is more than just a drinking song, Carmina Burana is not exclusively an artifact of Nazi propaganda, and Here Comes the Bride is not simply a glorification of Germanic culture.

So I would qualify your statement somewhat. A listener who enjoys Beethoven's Fifth without knowledge of its history is not necessarily missing some crucial aspect of its "impact." He or she is merely finding impact in terms that are more relevant to his or her own time than to two centuries ago, just as everyone else does. Knowing an artwork's original context is indispensable for historical understanding but not for aesthetic appreciation (and I gather that the intent of this thread was more for the latter than the former).
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 03:27 pm
An excellent post, Shapeless. Smile
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 03:36 pm
Very kind of you to say so, JLN.

It really is an unending dilemma for music- and art-historians (it is for me, anyway): to what degree should historical knowledge affect aesthetic appreciation? Should listeners be bothered by the fact that Carmina Burana has a very dark history? I don't have any easy answer for this, much as I would like one, and in any event I don't want to hijack the thread. Very Happy
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 03:44 pm
I feel much the same about the history of painting.

By the way, someone commented to me that he hated the music of Wagner because of Wagner's anti-semitism. My response was that if a bad man (which Wagner was in my judgement) cannot create good music then it follows that good men cannot create bad music. Both points are stupid, of course.
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Shapeless
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 04:31 pm
Yes, Wagner has always been the test case in matters concerning history and art. My own opinion is that if one can make a persuasive case that anti-Semitism actually informs the creation of the work, then one has a valid reason for dismissing the work.

The case for Wagner has definitely been made before, with varying degrees of persuasiveness. To the extent that the exclusionary Teutonic nationalism of the nineteenth century was responsible for the Third Reich (and that is a hotly contested issue in itself), then Wagner was quite unquestionably a major player in that regard, since the mythical subject matter of the Ring Cycle and Parsifal were explicit attempts to claim for Germany a uniquely Germanic cultural heritage. Some scholars have even gone so far as to claim that the incestuous relationship between Siegmund and Sieglinde in the Die Walküre, which leads to the birth of the eventual hero of the entire cycle, is Wagner's way of emphasizing purity of blood as a necessary condition of greatness. So while you won't find any Wagnerian characters singing "Down with the Jews," you will find them glorifying Germanic cultural heritages and touting the virtues of purity of blood, which may or may not be grounds for moral condemnation, depending on the listener.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Thu 10 Jan, 2008 04:58 pm
Shapeless, I think that anti-semitism and/or pro-nazism were not the "sufficient" causes of Wagner's art--adornments perhaps.
By the way, I do not enjoy his operas for the most part, but his overtures are invariably magnificent. Wagner's genius, as expressed in his MUSIC, as opposed to his stories, transcends matters of politics and personality. To me--and this may only reflect my intellectual laziness--Wagner's creativity is ultimately a mystery. And this applies to all artists and their art.

I appreciate your knowledge.
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