As ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino describes, music is “often at the heart of our most profound social occasions and experiences” (2008). We are constantly listening to, discussing, and playing music. Despite its prevalence in our everyday life, few insights have been made into why music has such a profound and ubiquitous effect.
Music scholar Lawrence Zbikowski has begun to answer this question with a unique combination of cognitive psychology, semiotics, and music theory (2002; 2017). While Zbikowski has garnered insights into the cognitive processes behind our organization of music, into what he refers to as a “musical grammar,” and has conducted cognitive music theory analyses, this field is relatively untapped.
This field, coined Cognitive Music Theory (CMT), provides both music scholars and psychologists the opportunity to better understand the phenomenon of music; however, as is the case in a new field, more research must be pursued for further discoveries. I added to this research by analyzing jazz music – a new genre to the discipline. To aid myself in discovering what CMT has to teach us, I analyzed both classic jazz and contemporary jazz as well as the cultures and backgrounds of the performers behind the music. These analyses involved acquiring or producing transcriptions of jazz music, using music theory to analyze them closely, and applying historical/cultural contexts alongside cognitive psychology to explain the emotional effect of the music. For further comprehension, listening from recordings and attending live concerts were also compiled, as the context that music is created in has a significant impact on the music itself.
The dimensional theory of emotion is a central aspect of this project. The theory posits that our emotions arise from two dimensional traits, intensity and valence (Johnston & Olson, 2015). Indeed, the intensity and general pleasantness to our ear of music is paramount in our emotional understanding of the music. Through a careful and close analysis of how musicians use these two traits in music, we garner insights into human emotional processing of music as a whole.