Biopsychology Emotion Learning/Memory

Episode 101: The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords

How does music affect us emotionally?

Why do minor chords so sad? In this episode of The Psych Files I explore ideas from Daniel Leviton‘s fascinating book, This Is Your Brain on Music, especially those ideas concerned with what composers do to draw you into their piece by first conforming to your musical expectations and then carefully confounding them in order to surprise and delight. I talk with guitarist and composer David Temple to get his perspective on this process as well. Along the way you’ll hear excerpts from some fascinating pieces of music and David and I will discuss what makes them so compelling, especially those in the minor key. My piano playing skills are pretty rough but get ready for some fun.

Resources on the Psychology of Music



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  1. What Makes Some Songs Popular? | The Psych Files

    August 1, 2009

    […] The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords […]

  2. Episode 101: The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords « Dr. A Cappella: The A Cappella Psychologist

    August 1, 2009

    […] Episode 101: The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords. […]

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    August 1, 2009

    Hannah – glad you liked the outtakes. The episode actually got me started playing again, so I’ve been “tickling” the ivories ever since and getting back some of that old skill. It does fade with time though. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. I do like the field and I’m glad that comes through in the episodes. Thanks again – Michael

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    August 1, 2009


    As a definite NON-gloating piano player since a child, it was ever so slightly painful listening to your playing, but your commentary was so absolutely hilarious and wonderful it made it better than most piano teachings I’ve ever heard! Plus the out-takes….very nice haha.

    I’m just beginning listening to your blogs, but I’m so looking forward to many, many more. I love how cool you are about everything, granted it’s not uncommon in many of today’s lecturers (where did the boring lecturers go that I heard so much about in my teens?), but it’s certainly great every time one finds a loving and truly excited professor!!

    Until next time…,

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    August 1, 2009

    Angie, glad you enjoyed the episode and I hope it’s useful for your research. I saw the TED talk by Benjamin Zander – very entertaining and very interesting. thx.

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    August 1, 2009

    I found this episode very interesting, I could even find an idea to incorporate in my doctoral research. I am just watching a TED talks presentation by Benjamin Zander and I think it has very common points with this episode :

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    August 1, 2009

    David, I hadn’t seen that TED talk by Dan Ellsey – very interesting. Thanks for the link. I did see the video of Bobby McFerrin – really fun video. I saw it just before recording this episode and thought about finding a way to work it in, but I had too much other stuff. If anyone hasn’t seen it, then absolutely take a look. It’s great the way it shows how much innate musical understanding we all have – even if we haven’t had music lessons. Thanks David. -Michael

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    David Bradley

    August 1, 2009

    Great episode Michael. I used to be in an a cappella group in college and musicals in high school, it was interesting to hear some of the psychology behind the phenomenon. You mentioned in episode 100 that you are a fan of the TED talks. Have you seen this one? It’s with Dan Ellsey, a man with severe cerebral palsy, who uses technology to compose — and conduct — his own music. The music starts 17:30 into the clip, but the story behind the music is fascinating. I used to spend my summers working at a camp for mentally and physically disabled adults, and Dan was one of my favorite campers.

    Another cool (briefer) clip is from the World Science Festival, where Bobby McFerrin (of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” fame) gets the audience to automatically fill in the pentatonic scale. It really is hard-wired into the brain (at least into the brains of Westerners).

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    August 1, 2009

    Thank you so much for your podcasts. I have been listening to your ‘casts for months and each one is more fascinating than the previous one. This on was extremely enlightening. I thank you for the intro to music theory, and your knowledge of your field..

    Thanks again, and if you like, check out my blog and leave me your feedback..

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