Does music express emotion?
Much music that we listen to has some kind of emotional effect.
Also, different musical items seem to express different emotional effects.
Nevertheless, I propose that, in order to understand what the meaning of music is, we need to drop the assumption that the primary effect of music is to express emotion.
What, then, does music most directly express?
The music does not say what the situation is.
There might be lyrics which say something about what the situation is.
Or the music might be accompanying a scene in a film.
Sometimes, in a film, the situation is not what is happening right now in the film. Rather, the situation is what a character in the movie is (presumably) thinking about.
If there are no external hints about what the situation is, then the listener is entirely free to decide for themselves what situation to think about.
So, how does music affect the listener's thinking about a situation?
The fantasy world is allowed to differ from the real world in certain specific details.
In the fantasy world, the things that would normally be taken into consideration are either assumed not to exist at all, or, it might be allowed that they do exist, but, for the purpose of thinking about this situation, they are ignored as if they are completely irrelevant.
I can now revisit the emotional effects of listening to music.
Most emotions are responses to changes.
With music, the change comes from the imagined alteration of reality which the music motivates.
So, in summary:
- There is a listener listening to an item of music.
- The listener is thinking about a situation.
- There a things which, in this situation, would normally be taken into consideration.
- The music motivates the listener to create an altered fantasy version of reality in which those things can be completely ignored, as if they did not exist at all.
- In the context of the alteration of underlying reality, the listener's perception of the situation changes.
- This change of perception results in an emotional response.
In each example there is a situation, a deleted consideration, and a resulting emotional response.
I will show that the consideration is deleted by crossing it out like this.
The broken relationship
Situation: How the world is now, after our break-up.
Deleted: Any possibility that the relationship might still exist to some extent, or that it might be restarted.
Emotion: Sad response to the change from perception that the relationship might be finished to the perception that the relationship absolutely and certainly is finished.
The singer is in love with me
Situation: The beautiful woman who says she is in love with me.
Deleted: All the reasons that I might normally have to doubt that a beautiful woman could ever be in love with me.
Emotion: Happy response to the change from perception that the beautiful woman might be in love with me to the perception that she absolutely and definitely is in love with me.
Telling it like it is
Situation: I'm telling you what I need to tell you.
Deleted: Any diffidence I might have about telling you things that you don't want to hear.
Emotion: Feelings of confidence, determination and assertiveness, responding to a change from perception that maybe I want to tell it to you like it is to a perception that I absolutely can and should tell it to you like it is. (Depending on the details of what I am telling you, and how you might be expected to respond, I may also be feeling emotions resulting from my anticipation of your response.)
For a more detailed exposition of this hypothesis about the fundamental meaning of music, and how this relates to the fundamental property of music, and how music might originally have evolved, read here.