The power of music: The composition and perception of emotion in melody



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To investigate some specifics of what makes emotions attributable to melody, a combination of undergraduate and graduate music majors at Texas Tech University were asked to compose a melody depicting either happiness or sadness. No restrictions were placed on the use of time signature, key signature, or tempo, but melodies were restricted to one monophonic line of music. Melodies were analyzed for several structural features, some of which were drawn from previous studies, such as mode and note density, and others that are new to the present project, such as melodic span, and melodic contour. Next, a perceptual study was conducted to help determine how well melodies portrayed the intended emotions. Forty-nine undergraduate music majors rated their perceptions of twelve different emotions in each of the melodies; six emotions were positively valenced, including happy, and six emotions were negatively valenced, including sad. Perceptions of emotion in melody were dependent on several contributing factors ranging from those widely used such as mode and note density, to those not often connected with perceived emotion such as melodic contour and formal design. Overall, however, different combinations of these factors in individual melodies demonstrated that no single musical factor can determine emotional content.