Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Is Recognition of Emotion in Music Performance an
Aspect of Emotional Intelligence?

When musicians perform, they are expected to play a piece in different ways, to show happiness, sadness, anger or fear, and the listeners should be able to identify these emotions and recognize them throughout the performance. Through studies of Juslin we can see that emotions can be brought out or communicated very effectively through music performance. Also in Juslin’s studies, it was found that people even with little musical training still has the ability to recognize emotions in music. Mayer and Salovey describe this ability as emotional intelligence. Recently Mayer and Salovey have found a way to test emotional intelligence. This test measures four different aspects of emotional intelligence: perceiving emotions, using emotions to show thought, understanding emotions, and managing emotions. The actual purpose of this study or test, was to show whether or not the recognition of emotions in music performance is related to emotional intelligence.
In this experiment there were twenty-four undergraduate students and their musical training ranged from 0 to 15 years of music lessons. They were asked to listen to three different short piano pieces composed by Bach, Bartok, and Persichetti. Each piece was recorded by a classically trained pianist five times, first with the expression that was appropriate for the music (or the “normal” way), and then with four different emotional intentions: happiness, sadness, anger, and fearfulness. The happy and sad performances seemed to have a faster tempo than sad and fearful performances, and angry performances were louder than happy performances. After each performance, all of the participants were told to rate it on how happy, sad, angry or fearful it was. Also realize that none of the participants said that they were familiar with any of the pieces.
The results showed that the normal performance of the Bach piece was rated as sad, which is consistent with it being slow in tempo and in a minor key. The Bach performance that was intended as happy (the 2nd time it was played differently) was rated only slightly more happy, but rated much less sad and more angry than the normal performance. The performance that was intended sad had basically the same ratings as the normal performance, which showed that there was a limit to how sad this piece could actually sound. Finally, the performance intended to be angry was rated only a little less sad but not as fearful. Overall, the Bach performances were not very successful in showing the intended emotions. The Bartok piece performances overall, were more successful in showing the intended emotions. The Persichetti piece performances were the most successful in showing the intended emotions, as each emotion was rated exactly what was supposed to be intended by the performer. The Bach performances really only successfully showed two of the four emotions, the Bartok performances showed three of the four emotions, and the Persichetti showed all four of the emotions.
This study or test, showed that individual differences in sensitivity to emotion showed by the music performance are related to individual differences in emotional intelligence. Although recognizing or noticing emotion in music performance is less important in everyday life, it probably requires a lot of the same processes and sensitivities as recognizing emotion in speech. This would be entirely consistent with evidence the the emotional cues in music performance are very similar to those in speech.
There are many things such as mode, pitch register, range, consonance and dissonance, rhythm, tempo and dynamics that help people recognize the emotion in music performance. This shows that the Bach piece used in this study is a somewhat sad piece because of its minor key and slow tempo, whereas the major-key and moderate tempo Bartok piece makes a quietly happy impression, and the Persichetti piece is kind of neutral, not having a strong tonality. These characteristics were shown in the participants’s ratings of the “normal” performances, which also showed the performer’s certain responses to the respective musical structures. In the end, a performance is only able to show happiness, sadness, or any other emotion only if the music is actually being played happy or sad or any other emotion.

Sited Work:

Music Perception, Joel E. Resnicow & Peter Salovey.