Do Tempo And Pitch Modulation Elicit Emotional Responses In Music?

26 Feb

In the past decade, psychological research has aimed to define how music can evoke emotional responses.   Previous studies found that music a) can evoke emotional responses in both children and adults, b) can elicit such responses individuals from separate cultures, c) continued to elicit such experiences even when an experiment was rerun after several weeks.  Music is also believed to be associated with four categories of emotions: happiness, serenity, anger / fear, and sadness.  Yet, in order to understand how music educes these emotion we must ask if an emotional experience be elicited by music in a consist and predictable way.  Currently, research has identified several components that educe emotional responses: these include a) interval, b) melodic contour, c) tonal function and harmonic progression, d) texture and e) mode and tempo.

D. Ramos, J.L.O. Bueno and E. Bigand focused on the two latter components, mode and tempo, for their study.  These researchers manipulated the seven Greek modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, etc.) and tempo of musical stimuli to further understand how these devices relate to emotion.

The study recruited 30 participants with musical experience and 30 non musicians.  The experimental material consisted of three music segments, which were composed in the Ionian (major) mode but then reconstructed into the remaining Greek modes.  Additionally, these excerpts were warped to three different tempo markings (a slow, moderate, and fast tempo).

The study required the participants to drag-and-drop each musical excerpt into different categories (happiness, sadness, serenity, or fear/ anger) on a computer.  The participants could take their time, listen to the music samples as music as they wanted, but could not change their decision once a

The study found that minor modes were ranked with a negative valence in comparison to major modes.  This valence was then modified by the degree of tempo: faster tempi related to both degrees of arousal and more positive valence.  Many of these research conclusions have already been demonstrated in previous studies.  However, a new distinction made by this study showed that modulation in model structure (the same melody played in Ionian and then Dorian) influenced emotional responses.  These researchers conclude that other intervals aside from the generic major / minor third (scale degree 1 and 3) might play a role in the perception of emotional value. Thus, this study is important as it implies that perhaps a more universal cognitive process, one that is not exclusive to the major / minor third interval, but rather a generalized neural correlate, might administer musical emotion.

Ramos, D., Bueno, J.L.O., & Bigand, E. (2011). Manipulating Greek musical modes and tempo affects perceived musical emotion in musicians and non-musicians. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 44(2), 84-181.


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