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The Paradox of Music-evoked Sadness

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This research refers to listeners’ experience of music that evokes sadness. Sadness is a very important emotion that can be observed to all people. It is typically assumed to be undesirable and is therefore usually avoided in everyday life. Yet the question remains: Why do people listen to sad music? This question can be answered by the use of a psychological approach. It is possible to distinguish perceived emotions from those that are experienced. For example, although sad music is perceived as sad, listeners actually feel a combination of pleasant and sad emotions. In this survey, there are two sides of sadness by suggesting vicarious emotions, it also shows the listeners’ characteristics and the situational factors to the appreciation of sad music.


People usually listen to music in order to change their feelings of unhappiness or depression, and in particular they tend to listen the music of their choice, which amuse them and makes them cheerful again. With this in mind, why do people listen to sad music? It is reasonable to assume that sad music would evoke sadness in listeners. However, this doesn’t seem to occur. Within emotion psychology, sadness is considered as an unpleasant emotion.

According to the typical dimensional model of emotion suggested by Russell (1980), sadness is located in the category of displeasure and deactivating emotions (Russell, 2003). So, people should want to avoid sadness, but they choose to listen to it when it should offer them an unpleasant experience. Aristotle tried to explain this by suggesting the concept of catharsis. If sad music eliminates depression, then it is not surprising that people would prefer sad music. An alternative idea was added by Kawakami (2013). He suggested that people’s ability to feel pleasure when listening to music that is perceived as sad, might be related to a difference between the perception of the emotion in the music and the emotion it actually evokes. In addition, there are two types of emotions: perceived and felt.

Perceived emotions (Gabrielsson, 2002) are the emotions that people understand or recognize from our surroundings and environments, whereas felt emotions are what people actually experience. It is possible to recognize others’ emotions using expressed cues such as facial expression, tone of voice, and gestures. A similar process occurs when we listen to music by using cues such as key, tempo, or volume. Of course, when our experienced emotion is identical to our perceived emotion, then felt emotion and perceived emotion coincide. History of Music Music has been a main feature in most cultures over the years, varying widely between times and places. Since all the world even the most isolated people have at least a form of music, it is very likely that music has been present before the dispersion of humans around the world.

Consequently, music have been in existence for at least 55,000 years and the first music have been invented in Africa and then spread to the world as a fundamental constituent of life. A culture’s music rise from different factors, including social and economic organization, from the climate and the access to technology. . The emotions and ideas that music expresses, the situations in which music is played and listened to, and the attitudes toward music players and composers all vary between regions and periods. Eras of Music: Prehistoric music Prehistoric music or primitive music, is the name given to all music produced in ancient cultures, beginning somewhere in very late geological history. Prehistoric music is followed by ancient music in most of Europe (1500 BC) and later music in subsequent European-influenced areas, but still exists in isolated areas.

Prehistoric music technically includes all the world’s music before the existence of historical sources concerning that music. It is more preferable to refer to the prehistoric music of non-European continents as their traditional music, especially if she still survives. The origin of music is still unknown as it occurred before the recording of history. Some suggest that the origin of music likely stems from naturally occurring sounds and rhythms.

Human music may echo these phenomena using patterns, repetition and tonality. Even today, several cultures have some cases of their music which copies natural sounds. It can be for entertainment purposes like games or practical functions like luring animals in hunt. The first music instrument was probably human voice because it can make a wide variety of sounds, from singing, humming and whistling through to clicking, coughing and yawning. As for other musical instruments, in 2008 archaeologists discovered a flute made from bones in the Hohle Fels cave near Ulm, Germany, which was about 35,000 years old.

The five-holed flute has a V-shaped mouthpiece and is made specifically from a vulture wing bone. Also, the oldest known wooden pipes were discovered near Greystones, Ireland, in 2004. A pit from wood contained a group of six flutes made from yew wood, between 30 and 50 cm long, tapered at one end, but without any finger holes. They may once have been strapped together.

Ancient music

The prehistoric age is considered to have ended with the development of writing, and with it, by definition, prehistoric music. Ancient music is the name given to the music that followed. The oldest known song was written in cuneiform writing, dating to 3400 years ago from Ugarit. It was deciphered by Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, and was demonstrated to be composed in harmonies of thirds, like ancient gymel, and also was written using a Pythagorean tuning of the diatonic scale. The oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world, is the Seikilos epitaph. Double pipes, such as those used by the ancient Greeks, and ancient bagpipes, as well as a review of ancient drawings on vases and walls, and ancient writings which described musical techniques of the time, indicate polyphony.

One pipe in the aulos pairs, which is a double flute, likely served as a drone or keynote, while the other played melodic passages. Instruments, such as the seven holed flute and various types of stringed instruments have been recovered from the Indus valley civilization archaeological sites. Indian classical music, marga can be found from the scriptures of the Hindu tradition, the Vedas. Samaveda, one of the four Vedas, describes music at length. Ravanahatha is a fiddle popular in Western India. It is believed to have originated among the Hela civilization of Sri Lanka in the time of King Ravana. This string instrument has been recognized as one of the oldest string instruments in world history. The history of musical development in Iran (Persian music) dates back to the prehistoric era. The great legendary king, Jamshid, is credited with the invention of music. Music in Iran can be traced back to the days of the Elamite Empire (2500-644 BC). The Sassanid period (AD 226-651), in particular, has left us ample evidence pointing to the existence of a lively musical life in Persia.

The names of some important musicians such as Barbod, Nakissa and Ramtin, and titles of some of their works have survived. Biblical period According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Jubal was named by the Bible as the inventor of musical instruments. The Hebrews were much given to the cultivation of music. Their whole history and literature afford abundant evidence of this. After the Deluge, the first mention of music is in the account of Laban’s interview with Jacob. After their triumphal passage of the Red Sea, Moses and the children of Israel sang their song of deliverance. But the period of Samuel, David, and Solomon was the golden age of Hebrew music, as it was of Hebrew poetry. Music was now for the first time systematically cultivated. It was an essential part of training in the schools of the prophets. There now arose also a class of professional singers. Solomon’s Temple, however, was the great school of music. In the conducting of its services large bands of trained singers and players on instruments were constantly employed. In private life also music seems to have held an important place among the Hebrews.

Music and theatre scholars studying the history and anthropology of Semitic and early Judeo-Christian culture, have also discovered common links between theatrical and musical activity in the classical cultures of the Hebrews with those of the later cultures of the Greeks and Romans. The common area of performance is found in a social phenomenon called litany, a form of prayer consisting of a series of invocations or supplications. The Journal of Religion and Theatre notes that among the earliest forms of litany, Hebrew litany was accompanied by a rich musical tradition.

Early music

Early music is music of the European classical tradition from after the fall of the Roman Empire, in 476 AD, until the end of the Baroque era in the middle of the 18th century. Music within this enormous span of time was extremely diverse, encompassing multiple cultural traditions within a wide geographic area; many of the cultural groups out of which medieval Europe developed already had musical traditions, about which little is known. What unified these cultures in the Middle Ages was the Roman Catholic Church, and its music served as the focal point for musical development for the first thousand years of this period. The Early music era may also include contemporary but traditional or folk music, including Asian music, Persian music, music of India, Jewish music, Greek music, Roman music, the music of Mesopotamia, the music of Egypt, and Muslim music. Greek written history extends far back into Ancient Greece, and was a major part of ancient Greek theatre. In ancient Greece, mixed-gender choruses performed for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Instruments included the double-reed aulos and the plucked string instrument, the lyre, especially the special kind called a kithara. Music was an important part of education in ancient Greece, and boys were taught music starting at age six.


Situational factors and listener’s characteristics modulating the appreciation of sad music With regard to situational factors, emotions that are evoked by music are strongly influenced by the situational conditions of exposure to music, as well as by the purpose that music serves in a given situation. Although there are not a lot of cases concerning the situations in which people engage with sad music, two qualitative studies by Garrido and Schuber,show a number of explicit functions achieved by listening to sad music, such as re-experiencing affect, cognitive, social, retrieving memories, friend, distraction, and mood enhancement. However, because these studies are limited by their small sample sizes, further research should extend their findings to a broader population. With regard to the listener’s characteristics, the reason why some listeners can appreciate sad music while others avoid it, is based on the different character of each and every one of them.

Reliant on the study of Vuoskoski and his colleagues, it is obvious that openness to experience, global empathy and its subscales, such as fantasy and concern are connected with liking of sad music and intensity of the emotions evoked by sad music. Moreover, Vuoskoski and Eerola discovered that global empathy and its smaller parts, fantasy and concern cause sadness by unfamiliar music, while only fantasy correlate with familiar music. On the other hand, Garrido and Schubert claim that absorption and musical empathy relate with enjoyment of negative emotions in relation to music. As a result, they believe that sensitive people seem to appreciate more sad music, but further studies could help to specify the relationship between the trait empathy and the appreciation of sad music. Another thing that could help with the appreciation of sad music is mood. Mood is an emotional state not as intense as an emotion but with a longer duration. A number of studies reported that mood effects on liking of sad music. For example, Schellenberg and his colleagues statistically eliminated the typical preference for happy music over sad music after a research, which aimed to induce a negative mood in the participants. Furthermore, Hunter and his colleagues were able to explain this effect, by showing that liking of sad music increases when listeners are in a sad mood.

The research (Kawakami, 2013) Participants

In this study 44 people participated, 25 women and 19 men. Participants were divided into two groups according their association with music. Professional musicians and college students who were majoring in music, were in the “musician group”, which included 17 people, while 27 people who were unrelated to music, were in the “non-musician group”. It is important to mention that the participants’ mean age was 25.3 years.


The musical pieces that were used are the following: 1) Glinka’s La Separation, 2) Blumenfeld’s Etude “Sur Mer” and 3) Granados’s Allegro de Concierto. Famous musical pieces were not used as musical stimuli in order to avoid the awakening of particular memories that participants may have associated with well-known music, thereby ensuring that emotion evoked by the music would come from the stimuli rather than a memory. Participants were asked if they recognized the music, and no one reported having heard the musical stimuli before. However, participants reported how they perceived the music and how it made them feel using 62 emotion-related descriptive words and phrases on a scale ranging from 0 to 4. These descriptive words and phrases referred to various types of emotion that had been used in earlier studies (Hevner, 1936; Taniguchi, 1995; Zentner et al., 2008).


Four tasks were carried out by the participants. The first one was to ask them to listen to the music and report either their perceived or felt emotion. The second required that participants listen to the music played in a different key to that used in the first piece and report their perceived or felt emotion according to which of these they reported in the first task. In the third and fourth tasks, participants repeated tasks one and two but it showed the alternate type of emotion, for example if it was perceived emotion at the beginning, it became felt, and the other way around. With common questions, the researches tried to capture the participants’ emotions. Specifically, with the question “How did you feel when listening to this musical stimulus?”, they evaluate the listeners’ felt emotions and with the question “How would normal people feel when listening to this musical stimulus? This music probably sounds sad to most people, can you guess how other people actually feel? Is it possible that they will feel the emotion that the music portrays?”, they evaluate the listeners’ perceived emotions.

Statistical Analysis

To classify the 62 emotion-related descriptive words and phrases included, we used 176 data sets that comes from: 2 (perceived versus felt emotion) × 2 (major versus minor key) × 44 participants. For each result, a three-way analysis of variance was conducted (ANOVA) with the following design: musical emotion (perceived vs. felt) × key (major vs. minor) × musical experience (musicians vs. non-musicians). This helped to compare these variables for each factor.


The 62 emotion-related descriptive words and phrases were investigated via factor analysis, and four factors were created: “tragic emotion,” “heightened emotion,” “romantic emotion,” and “blithe emotion.” Mean factor scores for perceived and felt emotions From the bar chart it is clear that perceived and felt emotions are identical in many cases. However, this earlier study ((Kawakami, 2013) suggests that musically trained people experience pleasant emotions while listening to dissonance and music in minor keys despite perceiving them as unpleasant. Thus, there is a need to distinguish felt from perceived emotion.


From this survey it was concluded that there is enjoyment in listening to sad music, because sad music would be perceived as sad, but the experience of listening to sad music would evoke positive emotions in listeners. Listeners experienced less tragic emotion, they also experienced romantic emotion; therefore, sad music inspired ambivalent emotions in the listeners. Moreover, the reason why people experience ambivalent emotions when listening to sad music may be that the music generates vicarious emotions in listeners. That is, even if the music evokes a negative emotion, like sadness, listeners grasp it like a pleasant rather than an unpleasant feeling. This suggests that sadness is multifaceted, whereas it has previously been regarded as a solely unpleasant emotion.

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