The State of Music Psychology - hypebot

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This article reminds me of my studies for my degree in counseling. We had a rather unconventional professor who required us to study jazz composition, physics and traditional Eastern religions in addition to psych theory.

I am very encouraged to see that science is catching up to what many practitioners intuitively know and/or practice regularly.

Music is used in sports psychology, art therapy, yoga, by writers to help them get into the 'zone', (the space between the notes) much like what those schooled in music, Buddhism and/or physics learn that it is within these spaces physically and neurologically that one gains clarity, focus, joy, and release from pain and anxiety.

There is much to be gained by employing music (and paying artists their due) to promote peace, calm and healing in this world as well as near infinite commercial potential. -How many others out there can attest to be driven from a retail environment because of terrible, awful, no good music, (and the Holiday season frankly takes the prize for the worst of the worst.) Some songs just need to be put to rest in a shallow grave, for forever.

Great article and thank you!


For most of us in the creative fields, the introduction of a more empirical approach to composition and design can feel limiting. But science can actually help inform our creative choices. In fact, research sometimes validates our instincts - helping us understand that there often is a connection between universal themes and the way our brains are reacting to certain combinations of sounds, rhythms, melodies, etc.

Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen, who is another co-director of the Goldsmiths program, has been focusing on the use of music in the context of advertising, with some interesting results. It's a growing field - one that I think will continue to grow exponentially in the years ahead - and one that could be an interesting career option that isn't typically thought of as part of the "music business."

You can find out more about Müllensiefen's recent work here:


Thank you both! And thanks for reminding me of Daniel's work. I will be reading at the MMB program this Fall, and look very forward to working under them both.

eugene cantera

I hope these studies are not merely co-opted by the 'save music in our schools' groups but rather become a rally cry for music education to become increasingly more important to the general health and well being of everyone - especially adults. We can create employment for current and future music teachers who until now have relied on dwindling 'in-school' programs/budgets. The time is right for a paradigm shift in our profession - a move away from academia and into the private sector.

Bernd Willimek

Music and Emotions

The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can't convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will "Yes, I want to...". If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will "I don't want any more...". If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will "I don't want any more..." with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words "I don't want anymore..." the first time softly and the second time loudly.
Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called "lead", "leading tone" or "striving effects". If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change - but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

Further information is available via the free download of the e-book "Music and Emotion - Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:

or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:

Enjoy reading

Bernd Willimek

Diana Christine Hereld

I would tend to disagree that emotion cannot be measured. Although consciousness cannot, emotion is measured often: quantitatively through fMRI, EEG and other forms of biofeedback, and qualitatively through varied measures such as self-report. For the former I recommend the extensive work Dr. David Huron, and the latter, Dr. Andrea Halpern.

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