Songs influence our feelings and emotions,1 but do you know that our emotions can be affected by as little as a single musical note? We all know the impact of a song on our feelings, and most of us have observed this when listening to music that uplifts our mood or matches it. But, a single musical note can evoke a specific emotional response in listeners too.2
Several studies have proved the impact of songs on our emotional states. For instance, a study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that songs from genres such as rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental, and heavy metal aroused 13 different types of emotions, ranging from positive feelings such as amusement, joy, feeling pumped up, relaxation, and dreaminess to negative feelings such as anxiety, scariness, annoyance, and defiance.1
However, what is fascinating is that one small note, regardless of the instrument it is played on, can also have a significant effect on our emotions and communicate many feelings. Here are two interesting studies that explore the potential of individual musical notes.
Musical Notes Played on a Guitar
Individual music notes that are not accompanied by melody, harmony, rhythm, modes, and other audio features can influence emotions too. This was found in a study that used 12 different notes to understand the impact of each note on human emotions.
A Fender Telecaster electric guitar was used to record the notes, and participants were asked to assign four basic emotions—sadness, joy, fear, and anger—to the sound of the music notes. The findings revealed that humans tend to associate sadness with the lower notes and joy with the higher notes.2
Musical Notes Played on a Piano
Another study that was conducted to study how expressive intentions of performers were communicated to listeners with the help of basic improvisations such as pitch, intensity, articulation, and rhythmic to single piano notes arrived at similar results.
In this study, the notes were played live for the listeners on a piano by musicians and non-musicians. It was found that the expressive quality of the notes came from the performers’ intention and that listeners could easily recognize the intention behind the sound even when basic improvisation elements were used. Feelings such as heavy, hesitant, solemn, fluid, and tender were part of the options that listeners assigned to the notes.3
If one note communicates so many emotions, imagine all the complex feelings that are conveyed through hundreds of notes that are improvised based on various musical parameters in a song. So next time you hear a song, remember that you are feeling exactly what the composers wanted to express and are getting an insight into another person’s life experiences!
We hope this BYJU’S FutureSchool article has inspired you to learn music and use it to your advantage. Sign up for a free trial where you can learn how to play the guitar or the piano to get started with your musical journey in a live 1:1 setting with knowledgeable instructors—or check out some more articles on BYJU’S FutureSchool Blog.
1. How Many Emotions Can Music Make You Feel? (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_many_emotions_can_music_make_you_feel
2. O’Toole, P., Glowinski, D., Pitt, I., & Mancini, M. (2021). When Emotions are Triggered by Single Musical Notes: Revealing the Underlying Factors of Auditory-Emotion Associations. ICMI 2021 Companion – Companion Publication of the 2021 International Conference on Multimodal Interaction, 291–298. https://doi.org/10.1145/3461615.3485419
3. Baraldi, F. B., Poli, G. de, & Rodà, A. (2006). Communicating expressive intentions with a single piano note. Journal of New Music Research, 35(3), 197–210. https://doi.org/10.1080/09298210601045575