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     What produces tension and repose in music?



Subject Music Pages 8 Style APA


Music Analysis: What Produces Tension and Repose in Music

Music is the dominant art that takes a cultural form and uses sound as the medium. Ideally, it is characterized by various elements such as rhythm, pitch, texture, temper, dynamics, and other sonic qualities. Primarily, the use of these elements depend on the type of music in play as some emphasize particular aspects while others omit them. Often, understanding of music varies among people. There are individuals who take listening to music as an effortless activity that occurs when they are in an environment where sound exit, while some feel that listening to music involves understanding the words that form part of the sound in play. Even though all these practices amount to listening, there is more to it than meets the eye. In ideal terms, listening to music refers to hearing the sound and actively responding to it. Therefore, listening to any form of music involves interaction with the sound. Consequently, the nature of listening sets music apart from other sounds, which are frequent in daily lives such as mechanical noises that become intrusive on some occasions. Primarily, special features that are added to sound to amount to good music enhance listening. In this regard, the features help stimulate a response from the listeners and set apart music sounds from other noises. Primarily, elements such as rhythm and tone appeal to the listeners’ emotion, thereby creating a connection between the person and the music. Moreover, other vital aspects such as tension and repose enhance the ability of music to be listened to. Therefore, as a means of understanding music and how one can effectively listen to it, it is vital to evaluate the effect and sources of conditioning, attitude, tension, and repose in music. In this regard, the goal of this paper is to discuss what produces tension and response in music.

Conditioning in Music

The classical definition of conditioning refers to a psychological practice of repeating particular events as a means of eliciting particular responses. Primarily, response leads to the development of new behaviors based on the actions that have been repeated several times. For human beings, conditioning can make a person adopt a new practice or relinquish a more established behavior. Primarily, music exists in different forms and genres. Moreover, the instruments used also vary with others only being made up of the human voice. In this regard, the factors that make people appreciate a particular type or genera of music and dislike another amount to conditioning. Principally, conditioning encompasses the style of presentation in which rhythm is created based on the variation of tone, pitch, and stylistic use of drums. Ideally, the repetition achieved in a song belonging to particular genre conditions it to be in a unique way from other songs. Consequently, continued repetition will modify the listener’s brain in a way that will make him or her anticipate for chances. For example, if a song translates between low and high pitches, the listener’s brain will condition itself to expect a variation of pitch, moving from low to high and then high to low.

Role of Conditioning

The primary role of conditioning in music is that it interacts with the attitude to create expectations in listeners. Ideally, when they become conditioned to listening to particular music or enjoying specific features of a musical composition, they develop a habit of expecting it and in the event that it lacks, they may fail to listen to that music. However, it is vital to understand that conditioning is subjective. Therefore, what one individual expects or perceives as being an element of good music might not appeal to another person or audience. Another role of conditioning is facilitating the creation of tension and repose cycles in music (Funes & Squires, 1992). In this regard, repose and tension utilize a level that resonates with the cultural conditioning of the audience in order to elicit the desired response. For instance, tension and repose on a simpler level create a sound wave effect on the nervous system and human eardrum thereby resulting in a similar response among audiences who share the same cultural conditioning.

Another role of conditioning is facilitating the categorization of music among people. In this regard, categorization helps people react in a particular manner to specific effects contained in sound or music. Therefore, if the music is the same, the reaction is likely to be similar. However, for different music, the people’s reaction will vary as they are not conditioned to that sort of sound. Therefore, based on the target audience and the level of cultural conditioning present in them, music composers can know what aspect that can influence positive reactions and likeability of music. 

Attitude in Music

Attitude is well understood from a psychological perspective because it can influence things consciously or unconsciously. Attitude is a psychological construct of a person’s emotional or mental self that characterizes the individual. Primarily, people’s attitudes influence their responses and perceptions of other individuals, experiences, and objects. According to Funes and Squires (1992), attitude is closely related to conditioning because most of the responses elicited by people are often preconditioned. The effect of attitude is significant as it can create interaction between related elements. For instance, if one is angry at an organization for failing to offer him a job, he may develop a dislike for other companies and even individuals associated with that organization.

Principally, attitude is significant in music because it dictates how a person views things or particular music. Consequently, the aspect of aesthetic is significant in attitude because people tend to develop likeness and attraction towards elements that appear beautiful. Primarily, the attitude in music is created by conditioning especially during early exposure. In this regard, if individuals get used to a particular set of music or sound and appreciate them as being good, they will appreciate new music that resembles the one they have been listening to. As such, aesthetic in the development of attitude is vital because it refers to the subjective perception of beauty that is embodied in musical elements (Funes & Squires, 1992). Therefore, if people identify particular musical aspects and elements and view them as being beautiful, they will guide them into appreciating any music that has those elements. However, one challenging aspect of attitude is that it is difficult to change or modify. According to Funes and Squires (1992), people’s attitude guides them in interacting with particular sounds. Therefore, it is vital that a person develops a liking for music naturally.

Role of Attitude

The primary role of attitude in people is that it influences their liking for particular things. In music, positive attitudes will influence people to like particular sounds and respond to them. Consequently, one will have achieved the desired listening to that specific music. Based on the perceptive and appreciative nature of attitude, it can lead to the promotion of music since one will tend to encourage others to listen to it. Another role of attitude in music is the creation of different emotional responses to sounds. Ideally, people view things differently based on their experiences and mental processes. Similarly, if any sound is played randomly in place with many people, the nature of reactions elicited will vary. For instance, some people might feel that it is loud and therefore seek to have the volume reduced while others will enjoy it. The variation is created by attitude and can help in understanding diversity among individuals as well as appreciating it (Funes & Squires, 1992).

Attitude is vital in giving music its cognitive significance. In this regard, sedate or calm music can lead to reduced anxiety among people while structural elements such as minor and major can lead to the development of sad or happy feelings in the listeners. Attitude creates a distinction between individuals with similar conditioning. In this regard, people who have been conditioned in similar ways culturally will depict a range of responses to the same music based on their inherent attitude levels. Lastly, attitude is significant in developing tension and repose in music. In this regard, if the audience’s attitude is high and positive, it will lead to more involvement in the music. Consequently, the music will be considered enjoyable.

Tension and Repose in Music

Tension refers to the anticipation created by music in a listener’s mind for either release or relaxation. Ideally, it is the expectation that the listeners develop after listening to particular music. Usually, it occurs subconsciously even though it influences the responses the people depict towards the music and whether they will like it or not. Primarily, tension can be achieved through the use of dynamic variation, reiteration, variation in pitch, and having syncopations between dissonance and consonance. Often, tension is balanced with repose to create music that will influence the minds of listeners differently thereby eliciting desired responses, perception, and attitude.

Tension and repose exist in cycles that work at two distinct levels determined by the effect of the sound on a listener’s nervous system and eardrum. On a simpler level, the chances of eliciting similar responses for similarly culturally conditioned individuals is high. Beyond the simpler levels, there are extreme cycles of repose and tension that include soft and loud, fast and slow, complex and simple, high and low. Therefore, tension and response influence the reactions of people to particular music or sound based on conditioning and their underlying attitudes. Based on its effect, it is ideal to understand that there are no extremes regarding tension and repose. Primarily, they are relative to each other and this influences the degree of response they create in the listeners. However, as Funes and Squires (1992) explain, the only extreme and moderation associated with tension and repose is that they can create a similar reaction in individuals with same cultural conditioning when balanced appropriate and on the other end, they can create differentiated responses among people with varying conditioning, perceptions, and attitudes.

Primary to the development of tension and repose in a sound or music is the structural arrangement of the piece. According to Funes and Squires (1992), a composition’s structure is the overall organization that offers the framework for infinite succession and growth processes. Ideally, it is how individual elements in musical composition are linked to each other to achieve progression. Currently, there are different organizational structures used in developing music. Primarily, they include the organic structure, which is specific to a particular piece, the conventional structure that can apply to many compositions, and the open structure, which is a performer based output as guided by the composer.

Sources of Tension and Repose

Tension and repose are present in all music and sounds. Therefore, they are produced by all elements involved in the development of any composition whether intentionally or intentionally. Primarily, the mind reacts to all senses especially sounds and the response created elicits other feelings. As such, any aspect of music from rhythm, tone, to texture is a source of repose and tension. As depicted by Funes and Squires (1992), the primary potent sources of tension are unexpected and ambiguity while appearance and clarity are the main sources of repose. However, the definition of ambiguity and the unexpected is not standard across all individuals as conditioning matters. For instance, a person might see irregular plucking of the guitar strings as being unexpected or ambiguous while another one from a deferent culture may feel that it is not ambiguous. Therefore, ambiguous and the unexpected can be defined as anything musical that amounts to surprise to the listeners. Ideally, conditioning through experience enables people to develop possibilities and probabilities while listening to music. However, something that a person has not experienced amounts to surprise thereby resulting in tension. On the other hand, repose is created by appearance and career, which are regarded as ‘normal’ or the expected aspect of music. Therefore, familiarity through conditioning is a primary source of repose whereas the absence of conditioning on particular music aspects results in tension.

The composition “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” offers an example of sources of repose and tension in the music. In the performances, the first four words of the two-part phrase are created by pitches, which elicit tension by elevating expectations in the listener. In this regard, listeners tend to think that the second part will most likely be equal to the first one in length. Moreover, they feel that the rising pitches in the first part will be complemented by descending pitches in the second part, and that second part will definitely establish a return to the tonic pitch just like the first one. In this example, tension is created by stating the song on a rising pitch while repose is achieved in answering the first part with a descending pitch exemplified by the second part. Therefore, the composition manages to achieve a complete tension-repose cycle. Moreover, the repetition created in the song raises tension because it takes the listener past the tolerance point.

Repetition is also a source of repose and tension. Ideally, if recurrence is used to create stability, it leads to the achievement of relative repose. However, if repetition is not consistent, it leads to excessive tension as it takes the listener past the tolerance point. Therefore, tension is also associated with discomfort on the part of the listener while repose relates closely with high level of comfort. Therefore, a smooth transition between stable and inconsistent repetition leads to the development of a full repose-tension cycle.

Other causing factors of tension and repose in music are the level of music. Ideally, levels are dictated by various events such as tone and pitch. In this regard, changing the pitch from high to low in composition results in tension. Similarly, if the music is expected to be softer and then becomes loud, tension is created. However, if this expectation is met, repose occurs in the minds of the listeners (Funes & Squires, 1992). Similarly, elements like increased activity, a gradual increase in length, and overloading music with information can raise the tension of a song. On the other hand, length uncertainty, surprise silence, and a sustained tone lead to a drop in tension.

The relationship between Sources of Tension and Repose

The primary relationship between sources of tension and repose is that they contradict each other. In this regard, tension increases when causing factors such as repetition increases to extreme ends while repose increases when they reduce. For instance, inconsistent repetition leads to high tension as it goes past the listener’s point of tolerance. However, stable repetition leads to repose. Therefore, to achieve a proper balance between tension and repose, it is ideal that the extreme ends of causing factors should not be achieved. For instance, while surprise is vital for creating tension in the minds of listeners, it should be associated with the ‘normal’ or the ‘expected’ to also elect repose in the audience.

In conclusion, it is apparent that music is made up of various elements that combine uniquely to create different effects on the listeners. Primarily, the audience achieves proper listening by engaging with the music by responding to it. In this regard, the nature of the response is influenced by conditioning and attitude. Ideally, conditioning involves having experience and exposure to the composition in a way that leads to the development of particular traits, which occur as a response to music. On the other hand, attitude dictates how a person views things. In this regard, it extends to music and influences perception, which determines the nature of the response a person depicts. It is vital for a music composition to elicit positive attitude and appreciative conditioning in the mind of the listeners to lead to a positive response. Central to creating an effect in the minds of the listeners is tension and repose. Ideally, they are replicated in the expectation or anticipation created in the minds of the listeners by music. While tension can be irritating, repose is sedating to most listeners. Primarily, significant causes of tension and repose are repetition, expectation, and surprise.



Funes, D. J., & Squires, S. E. (1992). Musical involvement: a guide to perceptive listening. Schirmer Books.

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