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Durham University



Publication details for Dr Imre Lahdelma

Lahdelma, I. & Eerola, T. (2016). Single chords convey distinct emotional qualities to both naïve and expert listeners. Psychology of Music 44(1): 37-54.

Author(s) from Durham


Previous research on music and emotions has been able to pinpoint many structural features conveying emotions. Empirical research on vertical harmony’s emotional qualities, however, has been rare. The main studies in harmony and emotions usually concern the horizontal aspects of harmony, ignoring emotional qualities of chords as such.

An empirical experiment was conducted where participants (N = 269) evaluated pre-chosen chords on a 9-item scale of given emotional dimensions. 14 different chords (major, minor, diminished, augmented triads and dominant, major and minor seventh chords with inversions) were played with two distinct timbres (piano and strings).

The results suggest significant differences in emotion perception across chords. These were consistent with notions about musical conventions, while providing novel data on how seventh chords affect emotion perception. The inversions and timbre also contributed to the evaluations. Moreover, certain chords played on the strings scored moderately high on the dimension of ‘nostalgia/longing,’ which is usually held as a musical emotion rising only from extra-musical connotations and conditioning, not intrinsically from the structural features of the music. The role of background variables to the results was largely negligible, suggesting the capacity of vertical harmony to convey distinct emotional qualities to both naïve and expert listeners.