Musical Emotion Is Rooted in Chords


Chord is the basic element of harmony in music. Music contains notes in succession and notes in combination. When notes are played together at the same time, it is called harmony. A chord is simply defined as a group of notes sounded simultaneously. A group of three notes is called a triad. Commonly, triads are made of the first, third, and fifth notes of a scale or mode. Other notes can be added, but in the diatonic system any note added to a triad must belong to the key.

Whether a song is rock, classical, jazz, or some other form of music, the chord structure is the backbone that gives the melody strength. Without chords, a song becomes unmelodious and discordant, almost atonal, lacking any harmony, figuratively and literally. Indeed, chord is the pleasant, structured harmonies of a musical phrase that makes music, well, music.

But some things in music are a little more difficult to explain in words. When you hear music that grabs you emotionally, it’s not so easy to put your finger on why you react to it. Though it may be hard to describe exactly why music has the power that it does, the ability to analyze chords helps to unravel the mystery. That’s because chords and chord progressions have a great deal to do with the character of music. Chord analysis, also known as “harmonic analysis,” is where the logical and emotional sides of music come together.
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Though, musical chords are arguably the smallest building blocks of music that retain emotional information. But think about it. When you hear a major chord, you interpret the music as positive whereas if you hear a minor chord, the music feels negative. Tempo also impacts how you feel. A slow song in a minor key, for instance, makes you feel sad. A faster song in a minor key may make you feel scared or angry. When played in a major chord with higher pitches, more fluctuations in rhythm, and a faster tempo, listeners typically interpret the music as happy. 

This concept is supported by a 2015 study that showed that musical chords are the smallest building blocks of music that elicit emotion. According to researchers, "The early stages of processing that are involved suggest that major and minor chords have deeply connected emotional meanings, rather than superficially attributed ones, indicating that minor triads possess negative emotional connotations and major triads possess positive emotional connotations."

It is always obvious that there is an absolute emotion with each and every chords. This observation was based on the scientific fact of overtones which in the low notes ultimately form a Major chord with a 6/4 inversion. This to me made the listener hear happiness, because all of the tones perfectly resonated harmonically in his or her ear. Any simple manipulation of this chord frustrates those overtones. In that the listener is also frustrated and thinks how the sound isn’t quite right. Thus we have the minor [and diminished] chords which seem sad.
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The next time a song or piece catches your attention, get your hands on the sheet music and take a look at the chord progressions. Do you notice any patterns, such as where certain chords tend to lead, or what types of chord changes trigger your emotions? You’ll find that a little curiosity goes a long way in discovering the reasons behind music’s expressive powers. Major and minor chords have deeply connected emotional meanings, rather than superficially attributed ones.


Major chords are generally perceived as positive [i.e. major triads possess positive emotional connotations] and minor chords as negative [i.e. minor triads possess negative emotional connotations] -sounding
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