Leonard Meyer`s theory of emotion and meaning in music Subject

LeonardMeyer’s theory of emotion and meaning in music


LeonardMeyer’s theory of emotion and meaning in music

Atheory is a set of principles that tries to explain something orsomebody. Music has incorporated different theoretical approaches toexplain how it exists and functions. Various music theorists havetried to explain music through the use of the different theories,among them is Leonard Meyer. His research work is based on the theoryof emotion and its importance in the music. Proceeding paragraphsgives a conclusive explanation on the same.

Meyer`stheory of emotion is a psychologically based approach used in theexplanation of music. The main purpose that the theory aims toachieve through this method is to clarify the manner in which musicneed to be communicated and highlight some of the problems faced inthe music (Eerola, T., &amp Vuoskoski, J. K.2013). Despite this,Meyer’s work also tries to portray that music tends to have somephilosophical bearings, and they are categorized as the formalist,an expressionist, and absolutist. According to absolutist, musictends to carry meaning which is usually within the context of thework provided. Differential approach views music as a musical worldwith concepts such as emotions and actions. According to formalistapproach, music has a meaning that is grounded in one`s knowledge ofunderstanding and his perception towards music too.

DespiteMeyer being influenced by a psychological approach in music, heidentifies three errors to be associated with this section. Theyinclude universalism, hedonism, and atomism. Universalism tends toregard music as always to be good despite time and the setting ittakes place in. Hedonism, on the other hand, is where there is anassumption that the music will always be liked. Finally, the error ofatomism is where music is explained through complexes and discretesounds (Larson, S, 2012)


Inhis views of emotion, Meyer starts by differentiating emotion and amood. He describes emotion as temporary while the mood is relativelypermanent. He goes ahead to state that most emotional studies inmusic are attributed to the mood. Therefore, he plays a vital role inthe music. Meyer puts it clear that emotions vary from one person toanother and from one place to another. The core reason behind this ispossession of different stimulus which gives a different relationshipin individuals (Gross, J. J,2014).


Here,how a situation is appraised has a great impact on the kind of themusical emotion portrayed. Take an example of a person falling fromspace, the emotion that is likely to emanate in this situation isunpleasant. However, in case a person is falling from space using aparachute, gives one a pleasant emotion, the reason behind being, aparachute is safe and enjoyable (Storr, A, 2015). Despite this, Meyerhas gone further to put it that there is neither pleasant norunpleasant emotion. He stipulates that the core determinant of theemotion is the nature of its cognitive appraisal.

Meyerhas gone further to talk about undifferentiated emotion in his work.He puts that there is the need for cognitive interpretation ofinformation before an emotion emerges. He clarifies this by statingthat sound stimuli may impact in changing psychological aspectshowever, there must be a cognitive interpretation to create a changein the emotion (Eerola et al, 2013)


Inhis research work in the theory, Meyer identified that emotion getsstimulated in case there is the inhibition to the tendency of itsresponse. The more the inhibition of the behaviors the more intensethe emotion generated, and the vice versa. From this, the law ofaffection is generated, and it states that &quotemotions evoked incase a tendency is which needs a response is inhibited. Therefore,from this theory, it is evident that learning of emotion takes placeas a psychological process, a communicative activity and finallyundifferentiated process (Davies, S, 2011).


Meyer’stheory of emotion stipulates that there are two types ofexpectations conscious and unconscious. Therefore, he puts it clearfrom this that expectation is neither unthinkable nor relaxed but anactivity that involves the use of mental knowledge. Cognitive is thedeterminant of any expected emotion at any given time.

Designationof emotion

Inthis approach, behaviors are seen as diffuse and also withoutcharacters. A person`s customary practices and traditions play amajor role in this scenario. Therefore, the changing nature ofemotion tends to shift across groups and cultural boundaries (Gross,J. J,2014).

Assumptionof the theory

Meyer`spsychological theory of emotion is believed to have been formulatedto fulfill the needs of a given group of people. They include theflowing music listeners, the musicians, and he aestheticians.However, psychological study of musical responses failed to deliverreliable information concerning musical stimulus and itseffectiveness (Juslin, P. N, 2013). The assumption that occurred isthat the law of emotion is a general proposition of human psychology.However, it fails to explain if the musical affective experiencesproduced have any similarities to the affective experiences fromother stimuli.

Meaningof the theory in music

Thereare three differential types of the meaning that Meyer has portrayedin this theory. They include evidence related meaning, hypotheticalmeaning and finally, there is determinate meaning. Hypotheticalmeaning tends to emerge in case there is an expectation of something.Evident emerges when a consequent is perceived and the final one isthe determinate meanings which occur when a relationship existsbetween hypothetical and evident meanings (Gross, J. J,2014).

Therefore,Meyer has played a vital role in the Music industry through histheory of emotion. Fist, this approach helped to create a linkbetween theoretical music argumentations and explicit humanpsychology. Here, some of the emerging concepts are that musicalexperience originates from human psychology, thus described as itsspecies. Therefore, the theory of music entirely benefits in casethere is understanding of psychology (Davies, S, 2011).

Anothermeaning that the theory has tried to achieve is that, through it,Mayer has been able to bridge a formalist and absolutist gap thatexists in music, this means he helped to create a point where musiclovers will be able to meet the theorists of the music, and theywould gain abundantly. This will be through free guiding and trainingrelated to the work of music.

Myer’stheory of emotion also plays a significant role where he puts itthat, in case a particular gesture is utilized yet it fails to createan emotion, it should be described as meaningless. From this, it isclear that we do not manage to get any message from another cultures`music (Juslin, P. N, 2013).

Inconclusion, it is evident that Meyer`s theory of emotion plays manyvital roles as described above. However, just like other theorieswhich always have criticism, this theory too has some concepts thatit failed to achieve. Its general assumption is as follows, emotionexpectation = emotion-= meaning. Therefore, there is the need for oneto take cautious measures when he is applying this theory in hismusic activities or his daily activities just like we do in othersthus, this marks the end of my research work. Despiteplaying an important role in the society, the meaning of music hasremained to be a subject of controversy. The main reason for this isthat there is ambiguity and lack of clarity in the musiccommunicated.


Larson,S. (2012). Musical Forces: Motion, metaphor, and meaning in music.Indiana University Press.

Davies,S. (2011). The Emotions expressed and aroused by music: Philosophicalperspectives.

Gross,J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation: Conceptual and empiricalfoundations. Handbook of emotion regulation, 2, 3-20.

Juslin,P. N. (2013). From everyday emotions to the aesthetic emotions:towards a unified theory of musical emotions. Physics of lifereviews, 10(3), 235-266.

Eerola,T., &amp Vuoskoski, J. K. (2013). A review of the music and emotionstudies: approaches, emotion models, and stimuli. Music Perception:An Interdisciplinary Journal, 30(3), 307-340.

Storr,A. (2015). Music and the Mind. Simon and Schuster.