It’s no secret that music has been a source of comfort and joy for centuries, that some make us feel energized, others make us cry. Think of your favourite song – no matter where you are or what mood you are in, when you hear it you are instantly taken on a journey.
It has been determined that happy songs evoke feelings of nostalgia, relief, contentment and joy from the listener. So what are the musical elements that make us feel so good?
One of the most common musical elements used in making a happy song is the combination of major chords, quick tempo and bright sound preferred in particular by pop and rock music genres. It is believed that major chords promote positivity and cause dopamine secretion in the brain which then gives us sensation of pleasure and well-being. Secondly, tempo has to be rather fast and cheerful, because fast rhythm is often associated with positive energy. On the other hand, sudden change in speed or melody (accelerando/decelerando) can give us a stranger kind of elation – one of anticipation. we need to consider the way the song is being produced. If the final result sounds open, organic and free from any artificiality (like excessive chorus/delay/reverb effects), it radiates warmth and happiness.
Another part of the equation is the lyrics. Many of the happy pop/rock songs rely on infectious optimistic phrases like “you won’t believe the view” or “I can’t contain my joy”. These extremely positive statements, while cliched, are easy to remember, have strong emotional impact and help us to be reminded of better times, reminiscence moments when we felt joy and happiness. Alongside musical elements exploitation of language nuances is also necessary - use of metaphors to bring greater depth to the song and common idioms to create an atmosphere of ease, comfort and assurance.
Other important yet subtle elements can also exist in the track. For example, most happy songs contain stories about overcoming hardships, finding love, going on adventures and fruitful accomplishments. We hear about those exploits and subconsciously those messages become comforting – we come to the idea that things that were lost can be found, that the journey is more important than the destination and that obstacles can be tackled.
As Freud said, much of our emotions reside in unconsciousness, so why wouldn't a composer use such techniques as symbolism, irony, foreshadowing, metaphor, hyperbole, alliteration, imagery and onomatopoeia to create an extra layer of coherence.
Happy songs take us back to our world of delight, warm us up and make us smile. The power of music is undeniable and even through gentle reminders, effective lyrics and imagination-evoking arrangements we’re allowed to feel true and genuine kind of joy.
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