On the Emotional Significance of Lyrics in Vocal Music

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Student Presentation

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Michal Temkin Martinez


The present study examines the relationship between lyrics and the various prosodic elements of melody in the communication of emotion in vocal music. Numerous studies have explored how prosodic elements of speech such as speech rate, voice intensity, pitch variability, and stress compare to their parallel melodic elements – tempo, dynamics, intervals, and articulation, respectively (Juslin & Laukka, 2003; Ilie & Thompson, 2006; Curtis & Bharucha, 2010; Coutinho & Dibben, 2013). Ali and Peynircioğlu (2006) found that lyrics are less influential in determining emotional response than the melody as a complete prosodic system. The current study reevaluates this finding by comparing the semantic meaning of the lyrics, not to the melody as a whole, but to the discretely identifiable melodic elements mentioned above. In this controlled perception experiment, participants rated the level of happiness and sadness conveyed by various melodies. While the melody at large was designed to convey sadness, one prosodic or semantic element signaled happiness. By juxtaposing these elements with regards to the emotion they convey, the study isolated each prosodic and semantic variable in order to evaluate which factor is most influential in determining which emotion was conveyed.

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