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A discussion to spice things up:

Music and emotion have always been partners in expressive art. Indeed, music is often touted as "the expression of innermost emotions", or the "emotions of the composer." Popular culture has taken this very seriously in his popular music: because it is often listened to passively, music selections are based solely on their emotional content, i.e. how they make the listener feel. When one is feeling sad, on goes a ballad about love-sick couples. When one is feeling happy and jubilant, on goes a dance theme. Or, when one *wants* to feel jubilant, one can do the same; the music's emotional content picks up the person and makes them feel a certain way.

The interesting question to ask is, does this apply to the so-called "higher" art of Classical music too, in whole or in part? Obviously certain periods focused more on the emotion than others, such as the Romantic or Classical periods where expression of languid and flowing melodies was considered "the best" kind of music. Other periods were all about the detachment of emotion from the music, such as the mid-20th Century where modernism dictated that music was solely intellectual. (Yes, this is a simplification, but let us keep it that way for the sake of argument). Both strategies have their acceptors and rejectors, so to come to a conclusion on "which is right" may be near impossible.

What we can discuss is how music and emotion are linked, and if they are (or not), how they affect the listener. And then, to the kicker, is music without emotion pointless? Is solely intellectual and logic enough to make not just "good" music but "purposeful" music?

Obviously the masses love emotional music; is music sans emotion worth listening to? Is lack of emotion one of the possible reasons why the masses don't like it?

Share your thoughts!

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I've posted this before numerous times, but here's a quick rundown of how the cognitive process works and how it relates to music: The first thing to notice and acknowledge is the overlapping between

In reality music itself has, inherently, no emotion at all. It can generate emotional reactions, but this depends on the listener. The experience of music can cause things. As for the rest of what yo

the thing is MUSIC DOES NOT HAVE EMOTIONS. people have, dogs, dolphins and things like that. music doesn't. so, the analysis should shift other way - is music pointless when it does not serves to arou

I don't think that there's any reason to believe that music has any inherent emotional qualities. There aren't really any well founded reasons why different harmonies would incite different emotions. And we can see that in music from different cultures that are less influenced by Western music, they associate different emotions with different sounds. So if you look at emotion in music that is assigned by the listener, not the composer, the question becomes a little bit meaningless.

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I don't think that there's any reason to believe that music has any inherent emotional qualities. There aren't really any well founded reasons why different harmonies would incite different emotions. And we can see that in music from different cultures that are less influenced by Western music, they associate different emotions with different sounds. So if you look at emotion in music that is assigned by the listener, not the composer, the question becomes a little bit meaningless.

Moving past the "inherently musical", when a composer intentionally puts emotional tendencies in his music, then how does this affect what the listener hears? I'm not talking about whether minor chords sound sad forever and ever amen. I'm talking in broader terms. Why does certain music we find "emotional" affect people *across* cultural divides?

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I know that the whole "cultural" aspect of music is an important decider in how people perceive music, often times. However ... doesn't it seem odd that most people seem to agree that overwhelming sad music is indeed sad, and extremely jubilant music is jubilant (to oversimplify things, of course)? There may be some differences, but when one hears a major-centric and in key piece with bouncy rhythms, one simply isn't reminded of trudging through a funeral, no matter the culture ...

It would be like hearing the trumpet here, with an elephant on screen, and instead thinking the trumpet is trying to make the sound of the cat or the mouse :blink: No matter what culture you are, you "get" that, period.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3inqtxDBbwE&feature=related

Music and film go together wonderfully, because music can personify and portray the actions on screen. When one hears music, one is essentially hearing the story being told, without the "film" being presented to you :)

Of course, there's always the ironic aspects of music, the "happy" piece which is truly not happy at all, etc., but that's kind of a different issue entirely, actually.

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Well, from a purely abstract sense... music doesn't inherently contain emotion. When we listen and perceive music, however, we tend to associate emotion with it. The exact reason WHY we associate music with emotion - as far as I know hasn't been figured out. I think we associate emotion to it because we tend to associate emotion to everything we hear - we react to it in different ways.

Whether emotional responses are the same across cultures is a different matter. I've listened to a lot of different music from different cultures. Some of it, I can get an emotional response from. Others I can't. And others still, I'm barely able to interpret anything at all! I think a lot of that is just cultural conditioning.

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However ... doesn't it seem odd that most people seem to agree that overwhelming sad music is indeed sad, and extremely jubilant music is jubilant (to oversimplify things, of course)? There may be some differences, but when one hears a major-centric and in key piece with bouncy rhythms, one simply isn't reminded of trudging through a funeral, no matter the culture ...

That's what I'm interested in! Where does cross-cultural emotion come into play?

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Well, there isn't any emotion inherent in music by itself, but in practically all people there is some inherent connection and experience with music. It is these experiences that guide our personal emotions and responses to it. So yes, there is emotion in music, but it varies from person to person. So as long as you call it music, it'll stir something in people. If it's so simple and dull or pitchless/noise it might not sound like music, and so the emotional response is anger that someone would call that music. It all depends on your personal experiences and preferences of music.

Having said that, there are also plenty of basic musical building blocks that all humans relate to, mainly pitch and rhythm. We are surrounded by music of some sort all our lives, it is a basic part of humanity, so just as we can feel emotions for persons of other cultures we can feel from music of other cultures.

I dunno, for me music is simply energetic expression. Nothing more or less, it's movement and sound and dancing, a way for us to get out what can't be said by words or other actions, and it is a binding force in our world, stronger than all the God(s) and gods who instead bring division and war into the world.

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the thing is MUSIC DOES NOT HAVE EMOTIONS. people have, dogs, dolphins and things like that. music doesn't. so, the analysis should shift other way - is music pointless when it does not serves to arouse emotion? i can only say that very seldomly this can be the case. because emotion is a loving vast thing enveloping so much!

now if you want specific emotions like sadness, i will tell what i told my sister: stop listening to this emo music, it makes you emo, your life starts sucking and you become feminine in the worst sense.

arousing emotions, simulating them can be pointless in much worse way than pure enjoyment of musical thought.

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I think you guys are taking his phrasing too literally. Obviously he didn't mean does music ITSELF have emotions. Of course the organized, patterned vibrations of air particles that we call music doesn't feel any emotion. He just means from a creating and (somewhat) listening standpoint is how we view music emotionally important? For example is it necessary to think "How do I want this piece to 'feel'?", or the simplified association of Major=Happy, Minor=Sad. Or is this music merely frill, and instead we should write and listen to music from a purely intellectual standpoint?

Personally I think we should do BOTH equally. I believe it was Asimov (please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) who gave the double ended pier analogy for the conflict between science and religion; going complete off one end will send you over the edge! To relate this to music, I personally think we should of course consider the emotional implications of our music, as save for those with mental imbalances, we are ALL emotional beings. Outside of music, we respond emotionally to pretty much EVERYTHING. However, at the same time I don't think the composer or the listen should be swallowed up by just how they feel. If we only worried about emotion, I doubt we would have ever developed a standard system of writing music, and possibly may have never developed instruments. To me if we had solely focused on emotion in our music, all music would be vocal (and possibly instrumental) improvisation, as we would have never cared to worry about theory...scales, chords, voicing, phrases...all of this stuff would not be developed. It might become inherently present just from "instinct", so to speak, but not from careful study and experimentation. I think we need a certain amount of intellectualism in our music.

That's why I love Beethoven's music so much; in my opinion his music is the perfect balance of music theory and emotion. And his music is EXTREMELY emotional, but at the same time it's not some random sounds of a man caught up in his feelings. He knows what he wants to express, and he finds ways of doing through theory-setting up suspense, building to climaxes...all created through his intellect, but with emotional goals. It's for these same reasons that I like the classical era in general...IMO it was a time when music had the right amount of emotion and intellect.

I think a lot of that is just cultural conditioning.

I agree with you about that. I think it's interesting that music is different from culture to culture just like more tangible things such as food, clothing, language etc.

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I've posted this before numerous times, but here's a quick rundown of how the cognitive process works and how it relates to music:

The first thing to notice and acknowledge is the overlapping between the language and the music areas of the brain, as music uses many of the same mechanisms we use when we hear people talk. In essence, our ability to draw out emotion out of a piece has a two facets.

1) We are wired to extrapolate emotional content out of arbitrary patterns, like we do in speech. For example, an angry person shouting in a language you don't understand can (imagine this over the phone) intimidate you or provoke various emotions. It's not because of the content of the speech but by the way it's presented. In this fashion we can identify 3 basic emotions no matter what kind of music we hear: Happiness, Anger and Sadness.

Example A: A person who is depressed will often speak slowly and with a lower tone. These are some of the characteristics we often extrapolate in music as "sadness," regardless of what we're hearing.

Example B: Aggressiveness in music tends to communicate anger just like shouting at someone will, again elements overlap here and it's easy to see the connection.

2) There is a mechanism by which we are chemically rewarded when we are surprised by syntax change within an establish context. This means, that a diminished chord by Bach in a rather standard T-D-T cadence is meant to achieve exactly a kind of balance between being harsh and being still predictable enough. This leads to a kind of "aesthetic curve" where this middle ground is at the center of a lot of music changes. For example an interrupted cadence in C major often is A minor due to similarity in the notes, despite it being an entirely different key. It's "far enough" that you notice, but not too far that it bothers.

This phenomenon exists, of course, in speech as well. It happens when you read a sentence like for example: "I'll install some Betty duck airplane." Spoken out loud anyone's reaction will be along the same lines of what happens when there is an allowed break in harmony. This is also the basis of a lot of literary principles in forming sentences and etc etc.

Because this works on the basis of established syntax, it needs context for it to work and hence this is where culture comes into play greatly. This break in syntax can only happen if you're able to predict what -should- come, and instead what you get is something else. In a language/music where you can't do it, it's impossible to get this payoff to work. This is also, I suspect, the reason modern music hard to get into, as it takes a while to assimilate many new elements until they begin working this way (hear enough atonality and you'll find "breaks" from it, just like in any kind of syntax within a certain context.)

Example A: the Neapolitan cadence is a good old example of (Cadence) harmony that is extremely powerful (you couldn't GET more dissonant back then than this,) and it works precisely because what you expect is similar to what you get, but different enough that it makes you react.

Example B: Augmented chords took a long while to become single-use chords within a harmonic context. Liszt was one of the first to attempt to use them on their own entirely without resorting to passing notes as a way to "legitimize them." The reason is that the sound created by an augmented chord on it's own is "too far" from other sounds within a context therefore not a good stand-alone chord. Within a created context however, it's used extensively as the effect is diminished through the use of passing notes, Eg T -> S by means of a progressively raised 5th to the 3rd of the S. This is typical by Schubert, for example. It effectively creates an augmented chord, but only in passing and with pedal tones that ease off the dissonance. Compare with Mozart's rather pioneering minuet (Minuet in D KV 355-576b) where the chord is used by itself (but resolved chromatically.)

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Further reading:

Towards a neural basis of music-evoked emotions (Trends Cog Sci, 2010)

Processing Expectancy Violations during Music Performance and Perception: An ERP Study (J Cog Neurosci, in press)

Universal Recognition of Three Basic Emotions in Music (Current Biology, 2009)

:>

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As I've said before countless times, when a composer writes a piece of music, they're usually not writing off of a recipe of sorts or they're not writing completely randomly (though it's possible). And when you're not writing off of a prescribed recipe (i.e. write an E in measure 25, beat 1, a Bb on beat 2, a C# on beat 3, etc.) there's generally some mental input the composer puts into the music (even if it's the input of "I want to write random music"). Usually when a composer puts some mental input into a piece of music, there's something they want to express.

What they express may not always be what you actually feel, but it should be there in the music. For example, let's say that I'm listening to Mussorgsky and I hear a quickly played ascending whole-tone scale played by a flute. What I actually feel is probably more along the lines of boredom than anything else, but I know that he maybe probably wanted to express some sense of mysteriousness because in his time period and in that musical context, that's what the whole-tone scale was used for.

So in this sense, if a composer has some mental input into the music they're writing then they have things that they want to express. You might not actually feel what they wanted to express, but you should be able to at least tell in some small part what they wanted from the music itself.

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Example A: A person who is depressed will often speak slowly and with a lower tone. These are some of the characteristics we often extrapolate in music as "sadness," regardless of what we're hearing.

Example B: Aggressiveness in music tends to communicate anger just like shouting at someone will, again elements overlap here and it's easy to see the connection.

YES, exactly what I've been trying to say, except worded better. This kind of thing is what I mean.

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Like other people have said. It depends whether you interpret the music as emotional, logical, or a mixture of both. I think SCC made a great example with music being a language. Different music styles could be separate diolouges that can be so different it becomes confusing. In language, things like sarcasm and humor can completely send an unintended message. It's possible for someone to miss a seemingly clear emotional overtone. So, like in languages, you have to be as clear as possible to expect every listener to hear your message. Sometime, however, it might be better to let the listener connect the blocks himself...

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I never said music is anything like a "language," because it really isn't. We use a lot of the same brain functions on both, but one thing isn't the other as there is still a substantial difference.

You can't be "as clear as possible" with a message in music UNLESS you start employing symbols that culturally mean something and/or using other things like text itself (Eg Operas, or a symphonic poem based on a literary work.) Music itself, by itself, is extremely poor at communicating anything without aid of cultural symbols since those are the ones that we actually recognize as "meaning" anything.

Likewise with a language you don't understand, symbols that you aren't familiar with aren't going to "mean" anything to you by themselves (which isn't to say you can't get emotional meaning out of them as I said in my previous post.)

Example 1: Baroque affects worked within a cultural context that understood that if a piece was in X key, it MUST represent Y emotion with Z techniques. Hearing baroque music now without this knowledge doesn't mean you can't enjoy it all the same, but the meaning of the techniques, keys, etc are going to be lost on you. A piece in D minor isn't just a piece written in "minor" and it could be any key, as it happens later on in music history.

Example 2: Hearing medieval music and the constant parallel 5ths, etc, wouldn't lead to anyone this day and age to think "Oh, it's a perfect 5th interval it represents the perfection of god!" without being told beforehand about this aesthetic reasoning, since our music sounds -vastly- different and a lot of church music people are familiar with is much newer than this.

In both cases the composers may have thought they were "as clear as possible," but stripping away cultural context can lead to entirely different interpretations of the music which itself hasn't changed. I would say that, right now knowing how language and music are related it'd be easier to write music specifically designed to be interpreted universally (in the majority of cases) as having X or Y emotion, but the best you can get out of that is a general direction. Emotion isn't just "sad" or "happy," after all, and for everything more nuanced than the basic emotions people tend to fill in the blanks with their own experience and cultural context, adding layers to a basic idea without the music needing to be changed or be more complex or anything.

Example: Opera. A death scene and a departure scene may share similar sounding music, if not the exact same music, but the context of the scene can change wildly what the music provokes emotionally (specially after seeing the scene and hearing just the music.) Likewise, if the music IS different, it's probable that the base characteristics of "sadness" are going to be there still and that anything on top of that is due to the scene itself (such as dramatic pauses, etc etc.)

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on a side note, it's just so sad, that main three emotions (for music, and life?) are anger, sadness and happiness - basically it means that 2/3 of the music is really a dark thing. and you can get anger from sadness, and well, HTW happiness can come through all this?! this makes me sad and i'm going to write some angry music.

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When I hear a song that makes my emotions all funny it's because I can relate to something in the song with my life. Then when you hear the song you then realize that you are not the only person out there with that problem, or feelings.

Do you mean you relate to problems in the music...or in the lyrics?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Emotion/Symbolism

Emotion is a concept that a human attaches to a certain situation - a sight, an image, an incident and to music. The human brain works with the use of symbols. We look for and use symbols to think. We witness a tragic accident. Later on we create a link between a smashed up car, and the incident we saw when we were ten years old. We link a tuba playing short phrases to humor. We link a flute playing an Indian scale, to a wonder eyed musical feeling. A composer/creator begins to become aware of this connection and uses it in his/her work.

Music sometimes has a purpose, sometimes none other than to satisfy the composer/listener. When you start to write music on demand or if you've studied or written for long enough you are aware of that on some level. Sometimes music is inspired and seems to flow out of us, other times, other times we must rely on our experience of or lessons, or devices we have learnt to help us to get something done. I think good music sometimes guides us to an emotion, but tricks us by thinking we got there on our own.

How we respond to music is somewhat culturally transferred. Music being played by 16 string players, in enherantly more important that something being played by a rock quartet. Before the advent of the internet we were more isolated as to the different types of music we could hear. That has changed, now music is like a 24 all you can eat buffet. There's an extreme assortment of variety, and you can mix/match/contaminate/expound/create a different flavor.

I come for a rock/pop background. I used synthesizers (back in 60's) The synthesizer was still very crude back then, but it had an extreme range of what it could create.I often got booked to put fake strings on arrangements. Looking back, those sounds were pretty rough, and my knowledge of string arrangement pretty poor. But that synthesizer put a label of 'legitimacy' to the music. If it vaguely sounded like strings, it must be a 'legitimate' piece of music, who would go to all that trouble to adorn 'crap'.

It was then I became to realize why an orchestra sounded to good. It has had hundreds of years to evolve. It has found the right instruments, with the right harmonics, in the right proportion, to accomplish many goals.

Because we are emotional beings, we constantly look to reinforce this. We assign emotion to sounds, harmony, polyphony, rhythm, just as we do to images.

When we first heard the riff from Jaws, or Psycho, the music reinforced the fear we that was building up from plot, the actors, even our own fears. Now years later, that riff creates almost the opposite effect, because it so stereotypical, we laugh at it.

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Emotion/Symbolism

Emotion is a concept that a human attaches to a certain situation - a sight, an image, an incident and to music. The human brain works with the use of symbols. We look for and use symbols to think. We witness a tragic accident. Later on we create a link between a smashed up car, and the incident we saw when we were ten years old. We link a tuba playing short phrases to humor. We link a flute playing an Indian scale, to a wonder eyed musical feeling. A composer/creator begins to become aware of this connection and uses it in his/her work.

Music sometimes has a purpose, sometimes none other than to satisfy the composer/listener. When you start to write music on demand or if you've studied or written for long enough you are aware of that on some level. Sometimes music is inspired and seems to flow out of us, other times, other times we must rely on our experience of or lessons, or devices we have learnt to help us to get something done. I think good music sometimes guides us to an emotion, but tricks us by thinking we got there on our own.

How we respond to music is somewhat culturally transferred. Music being played by 16 string players, in enherantly more important that something being played by a rock quartet. Before the advent of the internet we were more isolated as to the different types of music we could hear. That has changed, now music is like a 24 all you can eat buffet. There's an extreme assortment of variety, and you can mix/match/contaminate/expound/create a different flavor.

I come for a rock/pop background. I used synthesizers (back in 60's) The synthesizer was still very crude back then, but it had an extreme range of what it could create.I often got booked to put fake strings on arrangements. Looking back, those sounds were pretty rough, and my knowledge of string arrangement pretty poor. But that synthesizer put a label of 'legitimacy' to the music. If it vaguely sounded like strings, it must be a 'legitimate' piece of music, who would go to all that trouble to adorn 'crap'.

It was then I became to realize why an orchestra sounded to good. It has had hundreds of years to evolve. It has found the right instruments, with the right harmonics, in the right proportion, to accomplish many goals.

Because we are emotional beings, we constantly look to reinforce this. We assign emotion to sounds, harmony, polyphony, rhythm, just as we do to images.

When we first heard the riff from Jaws, or Psycho, the music reinforced the fear we that was building up from plot, the actors, even our own fears. Now years later, that riff creates almost the opposite effect, because it so stereotypical, we laugh at it.

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  • 3 weeks later...

A discussion to spice things up:

Music and emotion have always been partners in expressive art. Indeed, music is often touted as "the expression of innermost emotions", or the "emotions of the composer." Popular culture has taken this very seriously in his popular music: because it is often listened to passively, music selections are based solely on their emotional content, i.e. how they make the listener feel. When one is feeling sad, on goes a ballad about love-sick couples. When one is feeling happy and jubilant, on goes a dance theme. Or, when one *wants* to feel jubilant, one can do the same; the music's emotional content picks up the person and makes them feel a certain way.

The interesting question to ask is, does this apply to the so-called "higher" art of Classical music too, in whole or in part? Obviously certain periods focused more on the emotion than others, such as the Romantic or Classical periods where expression of languid and flowing melodies was considered "the best" kind of music. Other periods were all about the detachment of emotion from the music, such as the mid-20th Century where modernism dictated that music was solely intellectual. (Yes, this is a simplification, but let us keep it that way for the sake of argument). Both strategies have their acceptors and rejectors, so to come to a conclusion on "which is right" may be near impossible.

What we can discuss is how music and emotion are linked, and if they are (or not), how they affect the listener. And then, to the kicker, is music without emotion pointless? Is solely intellectual and logic enough to make not just "good" music but "purposeful" music?

Obviously the masses love emotional music; is music sans emotion worth listening to? Is lack of emotion one of the possible reasons why the masses don't like it?

Share your thoughts!

I believe that music has certian universal aspects to it that dictate what kind of emotions are assciosiated with certian intervals/scales/chords/rythyms. For example, I believe that the prominince of the pentatonic scale across many different cultures is due to it's simple harmonic makeup. (4 stacked perfect fifths) And I believe although this is a big generalization, the assciosiation of major triad with happiness is due to it being produced as an immediate member of the harmonic series. (Harmonics 3 4 and 5) where as the minor chord is only obtained higher in the harmonic series, or by use of the inverse of the harmonic series.

The other main contributing factor to which I believe explains how we relate emotion to music is the idea that we asscosiate sounds with certian times/events in our life. From my personal experience, music has a strong ability to allow me to recall past events. From my understanding at the moment, this is the more powerfull driving force in how we experience emotion as related to music.

For example, I was listening to the radio one time and there was a specail guest on the air playing his oud. Beforehand he explained what the piece he wrote on his oud was about (in emotinal terms) to him. I can't remember exactly what he said, but I remember not agreeing with his musical interpretation. Interesting as it was, it simply sounded 'arabic' to me. You know, very mysterious sounding almost, just very evocative of middle-eastern immagrey. And you see, growing up in western culture, thats what we asscosiate arabic music with. But actually growing up with that music, people in the middle east have a different perspective of it.

But, more onto the subject as to wether or not emotion is still present in "higher" music; I believe that it is downright impossible to not have music that is somewhat emotinal. I personally find Bach very evocative at times, especially in well temperament. Some might call atonal music sterile, and some of it is, but I think it can express sadness, distress, anger, lonliness, emptyness, tension... etc. the list just goes on.

But now I pose a question. What exactly is "intelectual" music? Sure, some music may take more tought into it's form, melodic transformations, counterpoint, what have you. But in the end, itsn't it all just expressing broader, more complex emotions/stories?

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have to say that music can indeed awake emotions, and therefore I say that music is LOADED with emotions. But what is emotion? Emotion can be many things and I strongly believe music is one of the most touching things ever.

One good example. At first I knew nothing about piano but I just let my emotions out until it sounded okay and I evolved around that.

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