News Release

Study using a new interactive interface shows how music listeners think different emotions sound like in music

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Durham University

New research conducted by experts from Durham University’s Department of Music found that people are able to convey particular emotions through music by changing certain elements of the musical tune.

The researchers created an interactive computer interface called EmoteControl which allows users to control six cues (tempo, pitch, articulation, dynamics, brightness, and mode) of a musical piece in real time.

The participants were asked to show how they think seven different emotions (sadness, calmness, joy, anger, fear, power, and surprise) should sound like in music. They did this by changing the musical cues in EmoteControl, essentially allowing them to create their own variations of a range of music pieces that portrayed different emotions.

In general, musical cues were used in a similar way to represent a specific emotion. For example, participants conveyed sadness in the music using a slow tempo, minor mode, soft dynamics, legato articulation, low pitch level, and a dark timbre.

Tempo and mode were the two cues that highly effected the emotion being conveyed, while dynamics and brightness cues had the least effect on shaping the different emotions in the music.

The researchers also found out that sadness and joy were amongst the most accurately recognised emotions, which correlate with previous studies.

Professor Tuomas Eerola of Durham University said: “This interactive approach allowed us to tap into the participants’ perception of how different emotions should sound like in music and helped the participants create their own emotional variations of music that encompassed different emotional content.”

This research and the EmoteControl interface have implications for other sectors where emotional content is conveyed through music, such as sound branding (marketing), music in film and TV, adaptive music in gaming, as well as the potential to be used as an emotion communication medium for clinical purposes.


Media Information

Professor Tuomas Eerola of Durham University is available for interview and can be contacted on

Ms Annaliese Micallef Grimaud of Durham University is available for interview and can be contacted on

Alternatively, please contact Durham University Communications Office for interview requests on

Source information

‘An Interactive Approach to Emotional Expression Through Musical Cues’, (2022), A Grimaud and T Eerola, SAGE Journals.

The full paper can be accessed here:

Photographs and video

Associated image is available via the following link:

Video demonstration of EmoteControl is available via the following link:

Video and image should be credited to Durham University.

Useful Web Links  

Professor Tuomas Eerola staff profile:

Ms Annaliese Micallef Grimaud staff profile:

Department of Music:

About Durham University

Durham University is a globally outstanding centre of teaching and research based in historic Durham City in the UK.

We are a collegiate university committed to inspiring our people to do outstanding things at Durham and in the world.

We conduct boundary-breaking research that improves lives globally and we are ranked as a world top 100 university with an international reputation in research and education (QS World University Rankings 2022).

We are a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive UK universities and we are consistently ranked as a top 10 university in national league tables (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, Guardian University Guide and The Complete University Guide).

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