The Science of Sad Songs

We know how some songs seem to possess that X factor to stirs up emotions within us, that tug at our heart strings and move the multitudes to tears. Could something so seemingly personal, artistic and culturally conditioned be adequately analysed and explained by objective psychology though? This article seems to suggest so, reporting how the device called the “appoggiatura” seems to evoke a stronger physical reaction in listeners.

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”

Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.

What are your thoughts on the article’s analysis? Does it concur with your own tear-jerking experiences with music? 

A more pressing question: Could we simply engineer a successful song then? 

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