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Emotional Music

April 17, 2012

Music and speech use the same tonal qualities to evoke happy and sad emotions.



Setting the tone in music … I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Music can convey both happy and sad emotions. Neurobiologist Daniel Bowling and his colleagues at Duke University think music may share tonal properties with speech that express emotion in similar ways. Bowling says when people are sad, their tone of voice varies less, sort of like this, than when people are happy, sort of like this. His team found the same held true in both Western and South Indian music.

DANIEL BOWLING (Duke University):

When you have sad music you have small jumps between tones…

[Sad Raga]

When you have happy music you have large jumps between tones …

[Happy Raga]

And the same is true of speech.


He adds that this may be a universal phenomenon, allowing people to tell the difference between sad and happy music wherever it’s from. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Raga Shree recital to Krishna and Radha, Ragamala paintings, 19th century (Smithsonian Freer Sackler Gallery of Art/Wikimedia Commons)