Emotional communication in music: Implications for understanding links between between speech and music


  • Michael Schutz McMaster University


Parallels in the structure of speech and music have long fascinated great thinkers from Plato to Darwin.  The communication of emotion is no exception, as it touches on one of the primary motivations for musical listening – feeling “moved by the music.”  Although cues such as pitch height and timing are widely recognized as playing an important role in both domains, their role in music has been less researched than in language.  Here I will discuss several of my team’s explorations aimed at providing a musical complement to existing work in speech and linguistics.


The plethora of speech corpora provide useful data for examining the “natural” use of acoustic communicate emotion.  Unfortunately, the clear contrast between the number of ‘effective speakers’ and the number of ‘effective composers’ complicates efforts to fully explore parallels in structural cues between these domains.  Numerous studies based on manipulations of simplified musical stimuli such as newly composed single line melodies suggest important parallels between the communication of emotion in speech and music.  Melodies transposed higher in pitch sound “happier” and melodies played at slower tempi sound “sadder” – paralleling the use of these cues in speech.  However, it is not clear whether these simplified approaches capture the nuanced ways in which great composers employ such cues in their writing.


Here I will discuss my team’s research on this important issue, which mixes the techniques of acoustical analysis, psychophysical testing, data visualization, and empirical musicology to provide a diverse exploration of musical emotion complementing and extending speech studies.  In doing so my team aims to deepen our understanding of mechanisms shared between these ubiquitous human activities, providing insights useful to linguistics, musicians, psychologists, and cognitive scientists alike.


Author Biography

Michael Schutz, McMaster University

Associate Professor of Music Cogntion/PercussionMcMaster University School of the Arts



How to Cite

Schutz M. Emotional communication in music: Implications for understanding links between between speech and music. Canadian Acoustics [Internet]. 2016 Aug. 17 [cited 2021 Oct. 26];44(3). Available from: https://jcaa.caa-aca.ca/index.php/jcaa/article/view/2930



Proceedings of the Acoustics Week in Canada