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Musical cues

Experts in our top-rated Music Department are recognised globally for their outstanding innovation and research in Music.

In a new research study, our pioneering academics have found that music listeners are able to convey particular emotions through music by changing certain elements of the musical tune.

Decoding musical cues

One of the fascinating qualities of music is its ability to convey particular emotions to the listeners. 

Musical cues, such as tempo and dynamics, help musicians and performers encode emotions in the music and communicate them to the listeners.

Music listeners are able to decode the conveyed emotion utilising the same set of cues, and for the most part, accurately perceive the intended emotion.

Discovering how cues work

To understand how different cues convey specific emotions, our researchers created an interactive computer interface called EmoteControl, which allows users to control six cues (tempo, pitch, articulation, dynamics, brightness, and mode) of a musical piece in real time.

The participants were asked to show how they think seven different emotions (sadness, calmness, joy, anger, fear, power, and surprise) should sound like in music. They did this by changing the musical cues in EmoteControl.

Our academics discovered that participants used musical cues in a similar way to represent a specific emotion. For example, participants conveyed sadness in the music using a slow tempo, minor mode, soft dynamics, legato articulation, low pitch level, and a dark timbre.

They also found out that tempo and mode were the two cues that highly effected the emotion being conveyed, while dynamics and brightness cues had the least effect on shaping the different emotions in the music.

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