Журнал психологии и психотерапии

Журнал психологии и психотерапии
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ISSN: 2161-0487


Why do Minor Chords Sound Sad? The Theory of Musical Equilibration and the Emotions of Chords

Daniela Willimek and Bernd Willimek

One of the most exciting areas in the field of musicology is attaining solid new insights into the correlation between music and emotions. The Theory of Musical Equilibration now presents a new perspective on this topic. The Theory states that music itself cannot convey emotions, which is to say it is no more effective than other approach to expressing feelings. Instead, music communicates processes of the will which the listener identifies with, and relating to these processes gives music its emotional content.
“Music and Emotions -Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration” is the name of the English version of the German book entitled Musik und Emotionen-Studien zur Strebetendenz Theorie. Authors Daniela and Bernd Willimek present their theory and demonstrate its validity using examples from musical literature and test results. The book was translated from the German by Laura Russell.
The first part of the book explains the theory before exploring how it can be interpreted in terms of individual chords and harmonic progressions. A major chord, for example, is something we generally identify with the message, “I want to!” whereas a minor chord conveys the desire, “No more!” The volume at which a minor chord is played determines whether it is perceived as sorrow or anger. Furthermore, the authors discuss issues such as why a diminished chord is well-suited as the score for film scenes involving fear, or how an augmented chord can convey amazement and astonishment.
In the second part of the book, there is a discussion of test results which show a strong correlation in the way people perceive chords from an emotional standpoint. The Basic Test and the Rocky Test link harmonic sequences to scenes from a fairy tale and to emotional concepts, respectively. The outcome of these tests revealed the musical preferences of over 2000 children and adolescents (including members of the famous Viennese Boys’ Choir) across four continents. Similar tests for use in music therapy are currently being prepared.