Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
This research seeks to understand how emotion and pleasure connect with Elton John's music. First, I argue that enjoyment of this music arises in part when on how listener's expectations for harmonic and melodic musical parameters are subverted. This research draws primarily on David Huron's theory of expectation to show how music that deviates from expected norms can be re-evaluated positively. In addition to Huron, I draw on empirical psychology studies that have determined a number of musical correspondences to emotional evocations. Throughout my analyses, I examine how specific chord placement may incite emotion for the typical listener of pop/rock music, and I contend that those specific chords and their placement reliably create emotions that are linked to enjoyment. I also find that elements like melodic contour, repetition, and perceptual salience play a significant role in shaping the listener's reactions to musical stimuli.
In the second half of the dissertation, I use empirical research studies to help me address the physiological element of musical listening and enjoyment. I find that listeners use their bodies to entrain to rhythm and react to musical stimuli through laughter, tears, and frisson. Additionally, I investigate the embodiment of music and emotion through the bodily experience of Elton John as a pianist and singer. My analyses explore embodied emotional gestures on the keyboard and how those gestures bear on the listener's emotional connection to the music. Lastly, I speculate about how Elton's vocal gestures influence song expression and emotional evocation. This investigation of bodily reactions to music explores how the body might enjoy certain aspects of music and how bodily enjoyment factors into emotion. Ultimately, I argue that Elton John's music is enjoyable and incites emotion because of violation or validation of harmonic and melodic expectations, and because of emotionally laden bodily and vocal gestures perceived by the listener.
This research seeks to understand how emotion and pleasure connect with Elton John’s music by exploring the music in two ways. The first approach is by examining how listener psychology interacts with elements of harmony and melody. I find that Elton John’s music contains many aspects which listeners may find enjoyable including uncommon chord progressions and predictable melodic contours. The second approach focuses on listener and performer physiology. Certain kinds of rhythm allow listeners, consciously or unconsciously, to match their dancing, toe tapping, and even heartbeat to the beat of the music. Music also elicits other physiological responses from listeners like laughter, tears, and chills because of specific elements like dynamic change and tempo. Lastly, I examine Elton John’s physiology as an element in the creation of expression in the music through his movements at the piano and his vocal gestures. The movement required to play his compositions is indicative of the amount of expression within a given section of the song. I also show how his use of vibrato, vocal sliding, and tone color add emotional expression to his performance. Ultimately, I argue that Elton John’s music is enjoyable and incites emotion because of violation or validation of harmonic and melodic expectations, and because of emotionally laden bodily and vocal gestures perceived by the listener.
publicabstract, Elton John, Music and Emotion, Physiology, Pop/Rock, Psychology, Theory of Expectation
xiv, 191 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 182-191).
Copyright 2016 Kati Marie Meyer
Meyer, Kati Marie. "Emotion in the music of Elton John." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2016.