Why music moves us

This is the beginning of what may become a collection of musings on what aspects of some of the pieces of music that I find particularly moving might make them so emotionally affecting.

Starting with the live performance by the Chemical Brothers of The Golden Path

“2021 and crying, laughing, inspiring.. absolutely chemical, bros! @1:26 the seamless transition from insistent staccato isolated almost plucked sounding notes searching high and low to melodic uptempo phrases integrated with vocal harmonies conveys for me a sense of learning, achieving togetherness and resolution. Certainly different to the album version tho both have a nostalgic/lamenting yet optimistic and loving feel..like upsetting times but older and wiser afterwards. Not really sure what I’m talking about or why it’s so emotionally affecting but love it.”

‘Fragments of Bliss’ is a very appropriate title for this piece which again inspires and moves me to tears. Against a deep pulsating monotonic deep bass drone (a constant earth / environment) synth strings play and chords rise and fall in melodic washes that transport us on an epic journey from uncertain shifting places to a beautiful warm idyllic beach paradise.

In 28 Days Later, a repeated haunting but jaunty plucked note melody conveys a sense of nostalgia but this is combined with a bassier driving guitar rhythm that says to me life goes on, keep those sad times and losses in mind but keep ploughing on, working through past upsets and happier times will come.

Not a piece of music this time but a principle which this tutorial sets out. Any repeating part (sequence of notes or rhythm), however dissonant or uncomfortable, is something we eventually become used to and get to like. This struck me as a potential analogy to life where even if something is unpleasant but we continue to live through that unpleasantness we come to associate that particular unpleasantness with continued life and hence as something ‘good’. Something may not be nice but it’s familiar and ‘what we know’.  Perhaps this relates to what is meant by someone who is ‘twisted’ – their unhappy life experiences have formed them / they have grown around, and come to embrace, unhappy life experiences developing into a grotesque form as a way of surviving those experiences.

It takes ‘courage’ which is perhaps really ‘just’ the willingness to take a risk (i.e. accept the possible negative consequences of an action for the potential upside) to break free from such a way of living. Courage can I suspect be developed..maybe by doing things outside one’s comfort zone?..and doing them well enough that one survives them relatively unscathed. I guess the inspiring thing about the willingness to take risks is that there is the conviction or belief that there is or should be something better or more harmonious than where one is right now.

An angelic voice alternately singing in a fast (scared / resolute) and then calm composed tone against a powerful deep bass drum driving rhythm with choral interludes for me evokes the feelings one has dealing with the challenges of life, inspiring endless possibilities and potential, while having the reassurance of others having gone through the same and come out ok at the other end.

By Your Side

After 0:31 a distinctive melodic chattering sound appears and recurs throughout as a kind of watermark or chorus in this song. It is somewhere between banjo and synth in timbre and the staccato series of rapidly plucked string sounds is employed as a single note in a musical phrase that feels like it is searching high and low to find resolution. An upbeat, inspiring and toe-tapping sound.


A detailed analysis this time of each of the parts (drum pattern, chords, melody, vocals) much of which is beyond my limited understanding of music but something that stood out was the idea of a piece of music having a central chord which achieves for the listener a sense of resolution or relief with excursions around that chord evoking other emotions like tension and inspiration. Major ‘happy’ and minor ‘sad’ scales share some notes and employing those notes makes for ambiguous or mixed feelings.

So my work in progress summary of why music moves me:

Notes, timbres and rhythms evoke aspects of nature e.g. low notes convey the idea of something big, high notes of something whimsical and ethereal.

The interplay of notes over time depicts a story or sequence of events giving us an idea of cause and effect.

Notes played together can convey harmony and peace of mind or disharmony and tension.

Repetition can create a sense of familiarity and stability.

Voices, sounds and words can bring some emotion, thought, character or action of the vocalist or instrumentalist to mind e.g. we can empathise and know the movements and energy required to create a frenetic drum pattern or the dexterity required to perform a sequence of notes or the feeling that evokes a vocal intonation or form of words.

Parts of a piece of music can remind us of other pieces of music and bring those associations to mind.

Music can lead us to anticipate what note comes next and when an ‘expected’ note arrives, maybe after a long period of tension, that can result in a sense of euphoria, perhaps because we experience a sense of connectedness to the composer/performer.

More fundamentally, the fact that sounds created by others so profoundly affect our state of mind and emotions, without any obvious reason or teaching/learning being responsible, hints at our all coming from the same mold and being connected to eachother in ways beyond our immediate understanding. It leads us to a sense of there existing things beyond ourselves and our current range of knowledge or understanding.

Higher State of consciousness

Josh Wink’s iconic acid track repeats an organic ominous grumbling sound that create tension. Melodies come and go representing the passing of time during which there is perhaps an implicit acceptance of and just living with this underlying tension and what it might become. Eventually the ominous grumblings manifest as something more than mere indications of something troublesome on the horizon and are taken way beyond what anyone would imagine. We deal with the machinations and madness, embracing it, and the craziness returns to a grumbling that eventually disappears. We are left stronger and the beat goes on.

Best Day of My Life

The nostalgic repeating melody of “Best Day of My Life” on a lone instrument with occasional subtle more upbeat rhythm/volume crescendo reflects our sometime experience of loneliness and the troughs and peaks of life.

The lyrics convey the simplicity and fragility of our being and mental state. Our conscious experience of life can be affected by something as simple as a slogan on a billboard. 

“Saw a billboard, it said something like Everything, everything is gonna be alright”

The frequent ‘question’ (where is this melody going, how will it resolve) and answer (melodic tension being resolved) style of song melody progression I think ‘resets’ our thinking to just experiencing and enjoying the present and not overy thinking and worrying about the future.

“Fuck thinking about the future all the time”

“If I’m alone, I’m alone, and I don’t mind”

“Right now I’m just happy to be alive”


This interplay between the singer’s vocals and the guitar’s strumming feels like a conversation and the bitter sweet melody combined with driving tempo again conveys the sentiment of tempering one’s negative thoughts and anticipation – this time, through faith in a brighter future, rather than a pure enjoyment of the present in the Best Day of My Life.


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