Glory Bumps Dissected

By a psychologist anyway, who has a tested a theory about the formal features of the three-hanky special and other musically affecting moments (with the obvious disclaimers about culture and background varying your exact mileage):

Twenty years ago, the British psychologist John Sloboda conducted a simple experiment. He asked music lovers to identify passages of songs that reliably set off a physical reaction, such as tears or goose bumps. Participants identified 20 tear-triggering passages, and when Dr. Sloboda analyzed their properties, a trend emerged: 18 contained a musical device called an “appoggiatura.”

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”

Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.

Ful story is here. At least now neither I nor Carl risk being the chief pedants in the room.

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  1. Jeremy wrote:

    Wonderful post!

  2. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    That’s interesting. It’s probably true of my own listening. One example I can think of off the top of my head is that I get misty-eyed every time the “Lie-la-lie” chorus kicks in on “The Boxer.” It’s that sudden shift that triggers an emotional reaction.

  3. NG wrote:

    YGG: Pleased to see a younger person is looking into music from a while back. Sometimes I wonder if younger gospel singers have ever listened to the Statesmen.

  4. yankeegospelgirl wrote:

    Thanks NG—I’m really fascinated by the history of music. Recently I delved deeply into the work of Paul Simon for the first time, and it’s been mind-boggling. But then I’ve always had an old soul, musically. :)

  5. BUICK wrote:

    I always suspected that some SG artists employed the appoggiatura for artistic effect…and that others were just having trouble finding their pitch.

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