Election day is stressing people out.
If you need some uplifting tunes to avoid a dissociative fugue (or just get your groove one), a neuroscientist may have just the playlist for you.
Dr. Jacob Jolij, of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, created a playlist of feel-good and uplifting songs — and a formula for finding more of them.
The list was commissioned by the British electronics brand Alba. The company surveyed customers around the UK and Ireland, asking everything from their basic music taste to what sounds they listen to to feel happier.
“Basically, they asked me whether I could find a general pattern in the songs that respondents reported as ‘feel good songs’, and whether they could use this pattern to come up with a “formula”. I found this an interesting challenge, so I said yes.”
The “most uplifting playlist” was the result.
It wasn’t as easy as crunching some numbers, though.
“A ‘feel good song’ is rather tricky to define. Music appreciation is highly personal and strongly depends on social context, and personal associations. In that respect, the idea of a ‘feel good formula’ is a bit odd — factoring in all these personal aspects is next to impossible, in particular if you want to come up with a quantitative feel good formula. Basically, what you need are song features that you can express in numbers.”
Those features, like tempo and mode, were used to analyse the song data set. Three big things stuck out to Jolij.
One big association that stood out was tempo.
“The pattern was very clear — the average tempo of a ‘feel good’-song was substantially higher than the average pop song,” Jolij wrote. “Where the average tempo of pop songs is around 118 BPM [beats per minute], the list of feel good songs had an average tempo of around 140 to 150 BPM.”
Second, there was a commonality in the key, he says: “Again a very clear pattern: only two or three songs were in a minor key, the rest was all in a major key.”
Finally, the lyrics definitely played a role, at least in the songs that made lyrical sense:
“Of course, a song is more than its score. I have also looked at lyrical themes.
“Predominantly, the feel good songs were about positive events (going to a beach, going to a party, doing something with your love, etc.) or did not make sense at all.”
So after deciding what the formula for an uplifting song was, how did this playlist get created?
“I had little to with that actually — we simply took the most often mentioned song per decade,” Jolij wrote. “They fit the ‘formula’ reasonably well.”
When asked if anything on the list surprised him, Jolij told Business Insider: “No, not particularly. Which is a good thing, actually — it shows the idea that up-tempo music in a major key makes the best feel-good song seems to work!”
While this obviously isn’t a peer-reviewed study in a journal — and likely won’t ever be, Jolij says — anecdotally we can say it’s pretty darn good.
Jennifer Welsh wrote a previous version of this post.
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