The idea that music is "all about emotions"

Hi. You know this idea that music is “all about emotions”, for the musicians to express and the listeners to receive. Music as an universal language, but implying that it is an universal language of emotions.

Are you onboard this ideology? Does it match your experience?

For me: definitely not. I don’t think i have emotions when I am making music :neutral_face:


I perceive myself as a nervous person, quite restless and it is hard for me to relax. Whenever I finally manage to get into a deeper music making zone, it is the moment where I feel at peace and can focus, forget about time.
Does my music transport this? I don’t know. For me music is emotional, I prefer the less obvious expressions though. Some overtly technical music usually bores me rather quickly. Just saying this as technique is usually seen as the opposite of emotions. This is overtly simplistic probably.


I’m not really into the more rational aspects of some music. I don’t get anything out of that.
Though of course saying that music is just about emotions might be a bit reductive. Depends a bit on the definition I guess as well.
To me it’s mostly about emotions, perception (both auditory and tactile), state of mind, mood, memories, projected images, etc.


I don’t know whether music is all about emotions, but music only exists in the human mind. So in a way it becomes a question whether the mind is all about emotions… Probably not, but who can really tell?


I suspect that this is a false dichotomy.

Reason and emotion are simultaneous results of having a functioning human brain. They are neither fully independent nor inseparable.

Music, like everything else, involves both of them.

Edit: I should have said “separable” instead of “inseparable,” but it seems that the point has been made despite the incorrect word choice.


well, i don’t consider my own music (or sound works?) to be about emotions. I’m certainly not trying to communicate any emotion or idea or story (even when some of these participate to the making of the works).
Imho i build something that the listener can freely appreciate and project if/whatever they want. Like one goes into the woods (or any place really) and wanders there.
I direct my works towards the perception of the listener, not their feelings. It’s up to them what they feel.
(There is rational thinking involved in the making but i doubt a rational listener would find it fascinating and it makes for a too long post but its mostly the logistics aspect that is concerned.)

As a listener, most times i strongly dislike/get bored when the work tries to drive me towards feeling a pre-determined thing; which is not the same as a work expressing emotions (that difference is the place of judgement i guess).


Some music is all about emotions. Some music is all about space. Some music is all about class. Some music is all about power or money or rythm or escape. Some music is all about the time and place in which it is made. Some music is all about ideas. Some music is all about the idea of what music is all about.


Even music that seems on the surface like it’s about emotions is often counterintuitive. Blues often makes us feel good, not despairing and desperate. Really “happy” music runs the risk of being irritating if it you’re not in just the right frame of mind to receive it that way.

I like that thought.


Modern day love songs with lyrics really hurt me, like in a bad way that makes me really hate that music. Like trying to shove emotions about a break up down my throat, while I’m in a store trying to buy a toaster or something.

I feel so far away from this type of music these days. The mainstream lyric based commercial stuff. It really pains me whenever I get caught having to put up with it.

That must really make me sound like a dreadful old soul, but really I’ve just been listening to lyricless music for years, and it couldn’t give me more joy.

This is a real curse for me going about in the modern world, I suspect others are the same. If it was a smell, it’s like the stench of capitalism, or something.

Anyway, I’m drifting. I probably listen to music more in a mood-based way. I feel like music sort of sets the mood, which could be fun, contemplative, sombre, thoughtful, excited etc. Are they emotions?

I still love the old tango ‘aesthetic experience’. That’s the aim really, whatever you’re going for, and whatever a listener might pick up on.

Music is such a calming spirit for me. It’s like an old friend with a hand on the shoulder, a mentor to set you straight, young grasshopper.


This concept is certainly a cornerstone of music marketing… Who wants to hear music which is mostly a product of hard work, copying what other musicians do (copied poorly enough to make it ‘your own’)?


This exactly. I feel like I’m choking on regurgitated junk food when listening to “mainstream lyric based commercial stuff.”

I realize that many people like or even love the stuff, and I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone for what they enjoy. It’s entirely about my own ability to tolerate it. It feels like an allergic reaction, honestly.

That said, on occasion I will hear something I actually enjoy, but that is usually when the playlist is curated by a friend with whom I share significant aesthetic overlap. And the stuff I enjoy runs to the indie side of the spectrum.

But to each their own…


I do too. I think an Eno quote comes up regularly around this too, doing yourself a disservice by adhering to your taste and not listening to more pop or etc. It’s a fair point, and I don’t disagree with it. I am willing to admit I’m a curmudgeon, however. So I’m not always in the mood for that.

I remember being in Japan and ambient music seemed much more prevalent. In department stores or at the train station or airport or wherever. Public sphere music is so obnoxious in the West. I feel it’s like an age. Like we used to have Muzak (I kinda feel like this would be better). But I assume studies on this have been done and there’s a reason that music is on. (Sorry OP, drifting again).


This is a really interesting topic! I think it’s worth distinguishing between emotions when listening to music vs when creating music. I feel emotions when listening to music but creating music is an (enjoyable) technical exercise without much emotional content.

I too dislike lyric-driven music that tries to push manufactured emotional content, but I believe that good music creates a subtle emotional reaction.


I have a dual musical life in which these ideas play out quite differently.

On one hand, I create with tools that require a more deliberate and technical focus, mainly Ableton and eurorack. The technical focus requires me to offset to some extent whatever I might be feeling in order to deal with considered adjustments to the DAW or patching. While the results have emotional content, they do not as directly reflect my emotional state in the moment of creation.

My other musical life is as an improviser and in this case the results reflect my emotional and rational state with absolute immediacy.

What is interesting to me is that, while the results are clearly different, both are recognizable to me as being “my” music. I suppose that I’m bringing the same aesthetics to both processes, although the first approach is more abstracted due to the need to create iteratively rather than spontaneously.

Edit to fix typo


Music is all about emotion for me, both when it comes to listening and creating. The music I gravitate to is anything that makes me feel strong emotions regardless of genre. And when working on music, if I don’t find the sounds I’m working on are carrying any interesting emotion then I don’t want to work on it, I’ll scrap it and start something else. The way I work tends to be just trying anything until something creates an emotion in me and then I follow that, shaping the song to bring that emotion out more or mix it with other emotions.


What are the formal aesthetic properties of emotional music? Lyrics, melody and harmonic progression? For those of you who dislike “emotional” music, do you consciously avoid these things?

One definition of emotion is “instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.”

When I am listening to music (not creating it), I don’t think I can often say that I am “reasoning” about it more than I am “feeling” it, unless I’m attempting to analyze it from some technical or theoretical point of view.

The state of mind we are in while creating music is probably not the same state that the listener is in while experiencing it.

I wonder if when we talk about emotional music we are actually talking about “drama” (or melodrama). Maybe a drone is not emotional, but not all emotions are so obvious as “happy” or “sad.” Even if I put some ambient music on in the background to relax, I think “feeling chill” or “meditative” could still qualify as emotional states.

Anyway, not sure where I’m going with this. I guess it’s all emotions in my view. Even if your music isn’t “about” emotion, I’m probably going to feel something when I listen to it :slight_smile:


Idk music is something that differs person to person, moment to moment, based on the perception of it,
Perception is influenced by emotional states,

Going beyond that is just going to get incredibly specific incredibly fast,

I don’t think music is a “universal” language so to speak either, different cultures have devised entirely unique scales, performance techniques and instruments.
It’s fair to say most everywhere has developed music, but to say it’s universal like math or chemistry is maybe a stretch?


Totally on board with that, yes!

1 Like

Sometimes when I’m trying to sleep I will be ruminating on a situation or problem and a melody will pop in my head that I’m convinced is the purest expression (like, mechanically or the “meaning”) of it. Then I drift off almost immediately.


I agree.
It’s not about it ‘being all about emotions’, but that emotion is always present. Just like structure (which is an entirely logical category, imo) is inherent to any musical instance. (Good old head-heart dichotomy, heartily I love it.)

Inexpressive structure is very unimpressive, unstructured expression is too punctured.

I dare say that after the 20th century, no one element is ever entirely reducible to another. Such metaphysics broke down quite surely. (Though just as surely it still clings with all the brain mythology trotting around like spiffy apples). So from this viewpoint, it’s somewhat of an empty question raised here. Sounds like “are computers all about calculation?” or “are humans all about social interaction?”

If the question was reformulated as “is all music about expressiveness?” then I’d say no, but to me, all music that’s of interest is.