Music and Mood: Emotion Classification in Contemporary Music

Music is a recurring theme in my writing, so it was with great interest that I read recent news from the Glasgow Caledonian University on how music can impact mood, stress, and even the experience of pain:


In a study titled “Emotion Classification in Contemporary Music”, researchers had volunteers listen to a variety of contemporary music that isn’t available to the public, then rank the music in terms of its emotional impact. Project leader Dr Don Knox says, "We look at parameters such as rhythm patterns, melodic range, musical intervals, length of phrases, musical pitch and so on. For example, music falling into a positive category might have a regular rhythm, bright timbre and a fairly steady pitch contour over time. If tempo and loudness increase, for instance, this would place the piece in a more ‘exuberant’ or ‘excited’ region of the graph."

I think of music as a language* that we humans don’t fully understand, but one that speaks to all of us. It’s a language birds use to fight, defend territory, boast and brag…a language we humans use to inspire, soothe, comfort, trigger memories, rile up a crowd…I find it fascinating that particular arrangements of sound waves, performed in particular rhythms, volumes, and pitches can influence so many different people in so many different ways.

Music is magical.

At least, it is if you’re writing fantasy :).


*NYC’s Radio Lab produced a fascinating radio show titled “Musical Language,” in which they discuss topics such as research showing that people from multiple different cultures use the same “song” in their words when speaking to infants and “musical illusions”. Check it out!

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