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An interactive approach to emotional expression through musical cues

Micallef Grimaud, A. and Eerola, T. (2022) 'An interactive approach to emotional expression through musical cues.', Music & Science, 5 . pp. 1-23.


Previous literature suggests that structural and expressive cues affect the emotion expressed in music. However, only a few systematic explorations of cues have been done, usually focussing on a few cues or a limited amount of predetermined arbitrary cue values. This paper presents three experiments investigating the effect of six cues and their combinations on the music's perceived emotional expression. Twenty-eight musical pieces were created with the aim of providing flexible, ecologically valid, unfamiliar, new stimuli. In Experiment 1, 96 participants assessed which emotions were expressed in the pieces using Likert scale ratings. In Experiment 2, a subset of the stimuli was modified by participants (N = 42) via six available cues (tempo, mode, articulation, pitch, dynamics, and brightness) to convey seven emotions (anger, sadness, fear, joy, surprise, calmness, and power), addressing the main aim of exploring the impact of cue levels to expressions. Experiment 3 investigated how well the variations of the original stimuli created by participants in Experiment 2 expressed their intended emotion. Participants (N = 91) rated them alongside the seven original pieces, allowing the exploration of similarities and differences between the two sets of related pieces. An overall pattern of cue combinations was identified for each emotion. Some findings corroborate previous studies: mode and tempo were the most impactful cues in shaping emotions, and sadness and joy were amongst the most accurately recognised emotions. Novel findings include soft dynamics being used to convey anger, and dynamics and brightness being the least informative cues. These findings provide further motivation to investigate the effect of cues on emotions in music as combinations of multiple cues rather than as individual cues, as one cue might not give enough information to portray a specific emotion. The new findings and discrepancies are discussed in relation to current theories of music and emotions.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:16 March 2022
Date of first online publication:13 January 2022
Date first made open access:16 March 2022

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