Musical Emotions

Hi friends. For Music Monday this week I’d like to share a terrific segment I heard on NPR’s On The MediaIt explores the ability of music to elicit emotions in its listeners and identifies the specific elements that create such an effect.

Every one of us has experienced intense responsiveness to a piece of music at some point. Some of us have even been moved to tears. And if not moved to tears, to a feeling of emotional arousal that causes us to get lost in the moment. It’s quite thrilling when it happens. I feel tremendous emotional response when I listen to Beethoven. But of course, Beethoven was a master at provoking emotional response. Nobody does it better in my opinion.

The guest in the On The Media segment is Dan Levitin, professor of  Psychology, Behavioural Neuroscience, and Music at McGill University. He explains some compositional elements of music that work effectively in creating responsiveness, such as the use of arpeggiated chords, also known as broken chords. The opening measures of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, which Levitin uses in the segment, is a perfect example of the arpeggio effect and how it taps into the feelings of the listener. Other factors include some element of surprise – unexpected flourishes, rhythms, crescendos, and spurts of dissonance.

The segment is only seven minutes long but well worth a listen. Very interesting and enjoyable.

Saint Cecilia by John William Waterhouse:

11 thoughts on “Musical Emotions

  1. This was a GREAT post! Thank you so much. loved it.

  2. Ray says:

    Nice post Claudia.

    Love Adele’s music and nice art to go w / it!

  3. Bill MacDonald says:

    Agreed — that was an especially good one — thanks!

    You know, people used to react to art emotionally. Now they just seem transfixed — hypnotized somehow — by the artwork (or the recorded voice of the curator telling them what to see.) Nobody ever laughs out loud in an art museum, or cries, or expresses anger. We find it acceptable to react to a piece of music emotionally . . . I don’t get it. Do you suppose people are reacting silently?

    • artmodel says:


      You raise an interesting point. I wonder if it’s an issue of sound over sight? Are we moved more powerfully by the audible than the visual? I’m not sure. I personally have felt strong emotional responses to artwork but haven’t expressed them as openly.


  4. Fred says:

    Love that appoggiatura!

  5. Andrew says:

    Very interesting. I am not a fan of the “vocal fry” especially when it seems more intentional than natural. Like fingernails on a chalkboard.

    • artmodel says:


      I’m gonna take a chance and assume you’re hinting at the Kim Kardashian reference? If so I agree! I could’ve done without that part of the segment 😮

      But when it’s natural and authentic it’s very effective.

      Thanks for commenting!


  6. violinhunter says:

    I like Vivaldi, Bach, Bizet, Verdi, Poulenc, etc. I think Opera has the greatest “ability” to express emotion. If you listen to the finales of classic operas – Tosca, Aida, Turandot, La Traviata, La Boheme, Don Giovanni – some of the greatest dramatic music has been written for these final pages. From the perspective of a violinist playing in the pit, I can tell you that composers reserve some of their most difficult writing for the great final scenes – the point at which most players are fatigued. We must play out of a reserve of energy and inspiration we have to have at our command.

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