Music Express Year 1 Topics For Essays


During each term the children explore both fiction and non-fiction themes which are linked to our topics. Spelling, grammar and punctuation are also taught through these topics.

Autumn Term

Our topics for this term are Memory Box and Super Heroes. The children will write labels and write simple sentences linked to objects and memories. The children will also write simple sentences linked to Super Heroes and then create a report.

The children will then write simple sentences using stories about their own experiences, as well as create a story board and use this for a Super Hero comic strip.

Spring Term

Our Topics for this term are Moon Zoom and Dinosaurs Planet. The children will recite familiar poems by heart and write and perform a dinosaur poem. The children will write a fact file to report on space, as well as write a simple recount about discovering eggs on an egg hunt.

The children will then write simple sentences using patterned language based on science fiction stories and create a short narrative about having a pet as a dinosaur.

Summer Term

Our Topics for this term are Enchanted Woodland and Rio Da Vida. The children will write explanations about the lifecycle of a woodland creature and write carnival poetry using alliteration. The children will also write instructions for a simple recipe of a Brazilian dish.

The children will then write a story telling of a woodland adventure for example Little Red Riding Hood or Goldilocks and The Three Bears. They will also read Brazilian mythology tales and write a series of sentences to describe a mythical creature.


MATHS (Maths No Problem)

Year 1
AutumnThe focus this term is on number. The children will be developing their understanding of counting, place value and number bonds initially to 10 before extending this to 20. This will lead into some learning about addition and subtraction. They will also be learning about naming positions in geometry and the associated language including left and right.
SpringThis term Year 1 will be learning about both 2D and 3D shapes and their properties and they will use the shapes to create patterns. Their understanding of measurement will be developing through some work on length and height where they will be comparing heights and using the subject specific language associated with this for example taller, shorter and longer. They will also be learning to measure objects with increasing accuracy using both non-standard units and rulers. They will continue to work on their understanding of number, addition and subtraction but this will be extended to 40 and they will be introduced to the concept of multiplication. This learning will also feature in a number of lessons on solving word problems.
SummerThe children will be continuing to develop their multiplication skills and will be introduced to the inverse skill of dividing- they will be learning to group and share equally. Their work on fractions will begin with the idea of splitting an object (shape) into equal parts initially halves and then quarters. Counting, place value and number skills will be extended to 100. Measurement learning will focus on time, money, volume and capacity and mass. Time will focus on o’clock and half past and the associated language for example before and after. In their work on money they will be learning to recognise notes and coins. The skills of position and direction will be revised and extended to include the idea of turning.


Maths – The Year 1 Learner (160KB)


The National Curriculum requires children at KS1 & KS2 to study science. Starting in the school year 2017 – 2018, children throughout Holdbrook are following an exciting new science scheme called ‘Engaging Science’. This scheme covers all aspects of the National Curriculum and is supplemented by additional exploration in relevant Cornerstones topics. The life and work of famous scientists are linked to relevant units of work throughout both Key Stages.

The national curriculum for science aims to ensure that all pupils:

  • develop scientific knowledge and conceptual understanding through the specific disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics.
  • develop understanding of the nature, processes and methods of science through different types of science enquiries that help them to answer scientific questions about the world around them.
  • are equipped with the scientific knowledge required to understand the uses and implications of science, today and for the future.

Further detail about the National Curriculum requirements for science at Key Stages 1 & 2 can be found by following this link:

National Curriculum Science

Our Curriculum:


Year 1

The Animal Kingdom

Children will become familiar with common British vertebrates and invertebrates. They will learn about the different groups of vertebrates and be able to describe the main external features of each group. They will look at what animals eat and will understand that different animals have different diets. They will describe the external human body in detail.



Everyday Materials

Children develop vocabulary to describe material properties.   They carry out a range of simple tests on materials and investigate the best material to make a particular object.




Children learn the names of some common native flowering plants and trees. They plant bulbs and/or seeds and observe their growth over a period of weeks.   They go outside to study flowers and trees in wild and cultivated areas, making sketches and notes.


The Weather

Children study different types of weather through making and using a weather station and looking at the weather around the World. They study different aspects of the weather and learn how different weather is associated with different seasons. They give different weather forecasts for different times of the year.

Additional unit: Our Environment

Children study the same natural area during the course of the year, looking at how the area as a whole changes and at how individual aspects such as a single tree change during the different seasons. They use their senses to observe the area and find common animals and plants within the area. They learn how to show respect for the area and for the living things in it.


The Science Museum and the Natural History Museum in London are both free and well worth a visit.

TOPIC (Cornerstones)

We follow the Cornerstones Interactive Learning Projects scheme of work in order to build a group of well-rounded individuals who love to learn in innovative and dynamic ways. This new scheme has allowed us to create links between pupils’ learning, the classroom environment, the outdoor space as well as consolidate learning through trips and visitors.

Each half-term we engage our children with a new topic, develop their ideas and understanding, allow them to innovate with their new skills and express their ideas using all of their creativity.

Below is a summary of what Year 1 will be learning about during each half-term. You will find information about their topic, the books they will be reading, the phenomena they will be investigating – as well as information about what they will be studying in each of the foundation subjects during that time.

Ensuring children are exposed to high-quality literature is key to improving vocabulary and writing as well as developing a love for reading that will stay with children for life. We have invested in classic literature which supplements and adds to the curriculum themes. Our English curriculum has also been developed in line with the Cornerstones’ scheme of work so that children’s understanding and application of skills can be developed throughout the school day.

Homework ties in with the curriculum in school- the details for this can be found in our revised Homework Policy.


Y1 Curriculum Information - 2017/18 (51KB)



Autumn 1 – Memory Box Hi 6

To begin with, the children will be developing their awareness of chronological ordering of their recent history of their peers and other changes within living memory by looking through photos and other artefacts from their lives. Families are encouraged to share their own histories; the older the better!

Autumn 2 – Moon Zoom Ge HP 2a Hi 3 Hi 1

The children will make their first steps into geography in this topic. They will begin by looking at common and key features from around Britain such as beaches, forests, mountains, oceans and more. They will also begin to develop their awareness of human and physical geographic features.

In History, the children will be learning about key figures in our recent history who are of significant note to develop their understanding of chronological ordering and also how lessons can be learned from the past. The children will make simple comparisons between these figureheads to reveal how the world has changed over the years.

Spring 1 – Super Heroes Hi3

During this topic, the children will look at modern day super heroes and learn about what it takes to be one! They will look at both historical figures and heroes we find in our day to day lives to help them understand the roles of these people and how they help us.

Spring 2 – Dinosaur Planet Ge LK1 Hi2

The children will go back in time to the prehistoric period and learn about events beyond living memory. They will explore the land before time using a variety of complex resources to develop their reading comprehension skills and help them understand quite how old the Earth is. They will develop their reasoning abilities through the use of factual evidence and references to texts.

Next, they will look at how the world has changed since this time and use this knowledge as a basis to identify the seven continents and five oceans around the world that still exist today.

Summer 1 – Enchanted Woodlands Ge SF2 Ge SF3

In this topic, the children will begin to develop their directional awareness using simple directional language and by using a 4 point compass. They will use this knowledge to create their own map of a local area as part of a field study and use prepositional phrases through their English lessons to further develop this skill. Through this unit the children will also be developing their geographical terms for physical geographic features.

Summer 2 – Rio De Vida Ge PK1 Ge SF1 Ge SF3

In the children’s final topic, they will be exploring the rich and vibrant culture of Brazil. They wil start by continuing to develop their geographical understanding of the world by discovering where Brazil is on the map and its major landmarks using a variety of resources. They will also look into the surrounding oceans and compare a location in Brazil to a contrasting locality in Britain to explain how the Geography of an area can be used as an indicator for many aspects of an area and country.


Here is a link to the National Curriculum that explains these strands in and the other expectations from your children if you wish to review this further:





The Department for Education, as part of the new Primary National Curriculum (2014), stated that Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education would remain non-statutory. It did, however, guide that ‘All schools should make provision for PSHE education, drawing on good practice.’

At Holdbrook Primary School, we teach Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education through the comprehensive scheme of learning called ‘Jigsaw’. During the year, all classes from Nursery through to Year 6 benefit from a weekly, engaging PSHE lesson.

The ‘Jigsaw’ approach has children at its heart and helps them to understand and value who they are and how they contribute to the world. Celebration Certificates are awarded in a weekly assembly, to pupils in each year group, to recognise their contribution to a particular aspect of each theme.




Lessons are based on a theme (Jigsaw piece). In Year 1, Jigsaw Jack will help children learn about: Being Me in My World; Celebrating Difference; Dreams and Goals; Being Healthy; Relationships; and Growing Up.



Autumn Term

The lessons in Year 1 in the Autumn term cover this learning:

Spring Term

The lessons in Year 1 in the Spring term cover this learning:

Summer Term

The lessons in Year 1 in the Summer term cover this learning:

Further information about the ‘Jigsaw’ approach in Year 1:


Year-1-Overview-of-Lessons.pdf (130KB)


Guide-for-parents-and-carers-Part-One.pdf (2MB)


Guide-for-Parents-and-Carers-Part-Two.pdf (236KB)



Autumn: Let’s Create

The children begin to explore the use of digital texts, using varied devices and software to look at, discuss and start to create digital content. They investigate differences between input and output and hardware and software. They explore the idea of computers being connected either at home or at school, logging on to their area with support. They use unplugged computing approaches to explore the devices they use. They consider eSafe practice through the use of Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) materials during the first half term to make the children aware of how to stay safe when online, whether through the use of the internet or apps they may use at school and home.

Spring: Visual Information

The children investigate how we get information from different sources. They create graphs and charts and make general statements about them. They use apps and software to explore environmental conditions both inside and outside the classroom. They organise objects using simple branching databases. They explore how computers might sort objects, noting the process of Repeat during basic coding. They build on their eSafe practice through discussion and regular elements of lessons to refresh their understanding of staying safe online.

Summer: Discover Programming

The children start work on naming the main external parts of a computer and explore how they work together. They explore programmable devices they are familiar with, relating their understanding of inputs and outputs to natural and digital types. The children use a variety of both app based and computer based approaches and simple onscreen and physical devices to develop understanding of algorithms and programming. They start to find out why a set of instructions might not work and try to solve problems to make simple algorithms work.

Department for Education Computing Program of Study KS1 and 2


At Holdbrook, we are now following the ‘Music Express’ program for teaching Music.


Year 1
Autumn 1The topics are ‘Ourselves’ and ‘Number’

In the topic ‘Ourselves’ the children will explore ways of using their voices expressively. They will develop skills of singing while performing actions, and create an expressive story.

In the topic ‘Numbers’ the children will develop a sense of a steady beat through using movement, body percussion and instruments.

Autumn 2The topics are ‘Animals’ and ‘Weather’.

In the topic ‘Animals’ the children will develop an understanding of pitch through using movement, voices and instruments. They will identify contrast of high and low pitches, and create animal chant sounds and sequences.

In the topic ‘Weather’ the children will use voices, movement and instruments to explore different ways that music can be used to describe the weather.

Spring 1The topics are ‘Machines’ and ‘Seasons’.

In the topic ‘Machines’ the children will explore beat through movement, body percussion and instruments. They will combine steady beat with word rhythms and explore changes in tempo. Of pitch movements

In the topic ‘Seasons’ the children will further develop their vocabulary and understanding of pitch movements, exploring pitch through singing, tuned percussion and singing games.

Spring 2The topics are ‘Our School’ and ‘Pattern’.

In the topic ‘Our School’ the children will explore sounds found in their school environment. They will investigate ways to produce and record sounds, using IT to stimulate musical ideas related to geography.

In the topic ‘Pattern’ the children will develop an understanding of metre – groups of steady beat – through counting, body percussion and readying scores.

Summer 1The topics are ‘Story Time’ and ‘Our Bodies’.

In the topic ‘Story Time’ the children will learn how music can be used to tell a story. They will identify contrasts of fast and slow, loud ab quiet, leading to a performance.

In the topic ‘Our Bodies’ the children will respond with their bodies to a steady beat and rhythm in music. They experience combining rhythm patterns with steady beat, using body percussion.

Summer 2The topics are ‘Travel’ and ‘Water’.

In the topic ‘Travel’ the children will develop their performance skills and learn songs about travel and transport from around the world.

In the topic ‘Water’ the children will be using their voices, movement and instruments to explore changes of pitch. They will develop a performance with different vocal pitch shapes and tuned percussion.



At Holdbrook Primary and Nursery School the children will learn about the six main religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Sikhism. The children may also learn from other religions and theological ideas to ensure they are exposed to a diversity of faiths and viewpoints so they can begin to appreciate and understand that people around the world may have different beliefs and practices from their own.

This academic year, the RE curriculum will be delivered in a new and exciting way. The children will participate in six curriculum days, meaning they will not follow their usual timetable instead they will spend the whole day learning about Religious education. Each curriculum day will be based on a different ‘theme’ and the children will study a key area of focus set by Hertfordshire for Learning.

The themes for this academic year are:

Curriculum Day


Term 1 – Curriculum Day OneNature and Thankfulness
Term 1 – Curriculum Day TwoCreationism
Term 2 – Curriculum Day ThreeBelonging and Places of Worship
Term 2 – Curriculum Day FourFestivals
Term 3 – Curriculum Day FiveCeremonies
Term 3 – Curriculum Day SixSigns and Symbols

What are the eight key areas of learning that the children will study?

Belief and practicesSources of wisdomSymbols and actionsUltimate Questions
Identity and belongingPrayer, Worship and reflectionHuman responsibility and valuesJustice and fairness


Click on the link below to see key information regarding Religious education in English schools (Non-statutory guidance)


A first and very powerful source of perceived emotion in music reflects iconic coding. Juslin (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001) has repeatedly theorized that the code used in emotional expression in music performance is based on innate and universal “affect programs” for vocal expression of emotions. According to this “functionalist” framework—partly inspired by Spencer (1857)—the origin of iconically-coded expressions is to be sought in involuntary and emotion-specific physiological changes associated with emotional reactions, which strongly influence different aspects of voice production (for a review of the relationships among emotion, physiology and voice, see Juslin and Scherer, 2005). This notion was later named “Spencer's law” by Juslin and Laukka (2003). Because of its evolutionary origin, this is the type of coding that will have the most uniform impact on musical expression. I will show that iconically-coded expressions are intimately related to basic emotions.

The concept of basic emotions

The term basic or discrete emotions occurs frequently in the music psychology field today, typically to refer to certain emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, and fear), but without any deeper consideration of the theoretical basis of the concept. This is unfortunate, as it serves to obscure many of the issues under consideration.

First of all, it is quite possible to talk about emotions like sadness, surprise, anger, happiness, interest, and fear without adopting a basic-emotions perspective. Thus, simply adopting these emotions does not itself make one a “basic-emotion theorist.” (Otherwise, even Scherer would be a “basic-emotion theorist” because most of his studies have focused on these emotions; e.g., Scherer and Oshinsky, 1977; Banse and Scherer, 1996; Scherer et al., 2001). Hence, regardless of one's theoretical position, sadness, happiness, anger, surprise, and fear are obvious examples of emotions from “everyday life.” Therefore, my recommendation is to employ the term “basic emotion” only when one is embracing the theoretical basis of this concept, and to use the term “everyday emotions” when one is simply referring to emotions like happiness, anger, surprise, fear, and sadness, without wanting to commit to the underlying theory of basic emotions.

The concept of basic emotions refers to the idea that there is a limited number of innate and universal emotion categories, which are more biologically fundamental than others (Tomkins, 1962; Izard, 1977; Ekman, 1992; Oatley, 1992; Plutchik, 1994; Power and Dalgleish, 1997). Each basic emotion may be defined functionally in terms of a key appraisal of goal-relevant situations that have occurred frequently during evolution (e.g., Oatley, 1992). The situations include cooperation, conflict, separation, danger, reproduction, and caring. Support for basic emotions comes from a wide range of sources that include:

  • Phylogenetic continuity of basic emotions (Plutchik, 1980)

  • Early development of proposed basic emotions (Harris, 1989)

  • Distinct brain substrates associated with basic emotions (Murphy et al., 2003)

  • Distinct patterns of psychophysiological changes (Ekman et al., 1983)

  • Cross-cultural accuracy in facial and vocal expression (Elfenbein and Ambady, 2002)

  • Categorical perception of facial expressions of basic emotions (Etcoff and Magee, 1992)

  • Clusters matching basic emotions in similarity ratings of affect terms (Shaver et al., 1987)

  • Reduced reaction times in lexical-decision-tasks when priming words are taken from the same basic emotion category (Conway and Bekerian, 1987)

Not all of these sources of evidence are equally strong: thus, for example, the extent to which psychophysiological measures can distinguish among basic emotions is controversial, though recent multivariate approaches to emotion classification are promising (e.g., Kragel and LaBar, 2013). Yet, the most impressive evidence of basic emotions comes from studies of emotional communication (Juslin and Laukka, 2003).

Basic emotions in vocal and musical communication

To answer the question of which emotion categories we have, we first need to ask ourselves why we have categories at all; and, in particular, why we have emotion categories. Here, an ecological perspective on emotion could be helpful. Categories enable us to make important inferences (Corter and Gluck, 1992). For example, the ability to predict the probable behavior of another individual is quite useful: it allows the judge to adjust his or her behavior in order to affect the outcome of the interaction. Consequently I have argued elsewhere (Juslin, 1998) that when it comes to communication of emotion, the basic emotion categories represent the optimal compromise between two opposing goals of a perceiver: the desire to have the most informative categorization possible and the desire to have the categories be as discriminable as possible (Ross and Spalding, 1994). To be useful as guides to action, emotional expressions are typically decoded in terms of a few emotion categories related to important life problems such as danger (fear), competition (anger), loss (sadness), social cooperation (happiness), or caregiving (love) (Juslin, 2001).

In support, there is cross-cultural accuracy in decoding of basic emotions in vocal expression even in so-called traditional societies without any exposure to media (Bryan and Barrett, 2008). Critics of the basic-emotion approach in studies of vocal expression (Bachorowski, 1999) like to point out that it has been difficult to find distinct voice-profiles for basic emotions. Indeed, although basic emotions do present different acoustic features (Juslin and Laukka, 2003; Table 7), it's clear that the acoustic patterns obtained do not always neatly correspond to categories. But to look for discrete categories in the acoustic data is to look at the wrong place altogether. Categorical perception is a creation of the mind, it's not in the physical stimulus. The relevant support comes from work that shows that vocal emotion expression is perceived categorically (Laukka, 2005). The argument is that this evolved tendency to interpret emotional meaning in sounds in terms of certain categories places some constraints on musical expression also.

I have speculated (Juslin, 2001) that the origin of music lies in ceremonies of the distant past that related vocal emotion expression to singing: vocal expressions of basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and love probably became gradually meshed with vocal music that accompanied associated cultural activities, such as festivities, funerals, wars, and caregiving. The implication is that basic emotions are “privileged,” in the sense that they are biologically prepared for effective communication.

That basic emotions are easier to convey reliably in musical expression is also partly an effect of the fact the communicative process involves partly redundant cues which limits the amount of information that may be conveyed through the “channel,” as captured by the Lens Model for music and emotion first proposed and implemented by Juslin (1995, 2000). This characteristic might also be explained in terms of evolutionary pressures: Ultimately, it is more important to avoid making serious mistakes (e.g., mistaking anger for joy), than to have the ability to make subtle discriminations among emotions (e.g., reliably recognizing different types of joy). Thus, a listener's interpretation of emotions in music will tend to gravitate toward basic categories.

Resistance against basic emotions

As shown above there are plenty of reasons to adopt a categorical approach in terms of basic emotions. Why, then, has the notion of basic emotions been treated with so much skepticism in the music field recently? The reasons may be different, depending on who the skeptics are. Among musicians, there may be a sense that the concept of basic emotions somehow implies a low level of musical sophistication. (Who would like to have his or her music compositions or performances described as “basic”?) As pointed out by Juslin and Lindström, (2010), however, the term basic emotion does not imply that the music itself is “basic”: indeed, “basic emotions may be expressed in the most sublime manner” (p. 356). The term simply highlights the fact that basic emotions are at the core of human emotions. (Moreover, for most theorists, the idea of basic emotions also means that there are more complex emotions; see section Beyond Basic Emotions: Intrinsic and Associative Coding) Yet, one source of resistance to basic emotions is probably the terminology as such.

One way to reduce resistance to the notion of basic emotions amongst musicians could be to demonstrate their natural relationships to the everyday praxis of musicians, even in classical music. Could it be the case that these terms used merely as shorthand for broad categories of emotion in musical expression in previous studies (Juslin, 2001) can be “translated” to some “language” more familiar to the working musician? Musical scores often include “expression marks” that serve to indicate not only the tempo of the music but also the intended expressive character of the music. In a recent study (Juslin and Wiik, submitted), professional performers and psychology students were required to rate a highly varied set of pieces of classical music with regard to 20 expression marks rated as common by music experts and 20 emotion terms rated as feasible in the context of musical expression (e.g., Lindström et al., 2003). When the ratings were combined, the analysis yielded highly significant correlations among expression marks and emotion terms—in particular for basic emotions (Table ​2). The results may not be particularly surprising, given that expression marks typically involve reference to motion and emotion characters. But the point is that when music psychologists talk about basic emotions, they may well be referring to precisely the same expressive qualities that performers consider in expression marks throughout their daily work. Again we should not get too hung up on the superficial labels used to refer to the underlying emotion categories4.

Table 2

Examples of correlations between commonly used expression marks in music scores and basic-emotion labels used by psychologists.

Among music researchers, resistance to basic emotions seems to be due to certain myths that have been allowed to flourish unchallenged, and that have contributed to a misunderstanding of the concept of basic emotions. Six of these myths warrant closer consideration here.

Myth 1: “There is no agreement about which emotions are basic.” Basic emotions have been criticized, based on the fact that different emotion theorists have come up with different lists of emotions (Ortony and Turner, 1990). But this argument is, on reflection, a little suspect. There is a key question we should ask about the concept of basic emotions: does the concept help to narrow down and organize the field of emotion in a way that makes for greater agreement and consistency amongst those researchers who adopt the concept than amongst those who don't? If so, the concept is heuristic. Note that ideas about emotions depend crucially on how one defines an emotion. This helps to explain differences with respect to the lists of basic emotions proposed so far. How can we expect the authors to come up with the same set of basic emotions if they don't define emotions in the same way? The relevant question to ask is therefore: is there agreement about which emotions are basic amongst those who define emotions in a similar way? In fact, if we consider the authors who adopt similar definitions of emotions (e.g., in terms of their evolutionary adaptiveness), there is a lot of agreement about which emotions are basic (e.g., Plutchik, 1980). There is arguably more disagreement about the term “emotion” itself than about basic emotions (cf. Kleinginna and Kleinginna, 1981). Yet, few would argue that we should abandon the term “emotion.”

Myth 2: “Basic-emotions are incompatible with appraisal theory.” Sometimes the basic-emotion approach is contrasted with “appraisal theories” (Scherer, 1984), which aim to describe the processes through which an emotion is aroused. This is misleading, as it implies that the basic-emotion approach is somehow incompatible with appraisal. In fact, it turns out that many appraisal theorists embrace the notion of basic or primary emotions (see Lazarus, 1991; Roseman, 1991; Stein and Trabasso, 1992). Appraisal is a fundamental aspect of emotion induction that must be part of any emotion theory regardless of how it conceptualizes the resulting emotions. A component-process theory (e.g., Scherer, 1984) does not differ from a basic-emotion theory because it involves appraisal: The primary difference between the two types of theories is that the former assumes that there are as many emotion categories as there are possible outcome combinations of the appraisal-criteria included. (To my knowledge, this essential assumption has never actually been tested and verified by any researcher). The latter type, in contrast, assumes that cognitive appraisals typically result in a fewer number of broad categories, with more differentiated appraisals producing nuances within the categories, rather than additional categories. Regardless, basic-emotion theories are compatible with attempts to model the appraisal process that produces an emotion5.

Myth 3: “Basic emotions are crude and lacking in nuance.” This refers to the common view that emotion categories do not allow for the occurrence of subtle nuances within a category. This reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of a category. Just as there are different shades of blue, there can be different shades of sadness. The notion of basic emotions implies that, emotions from distinct basic-level categories are more different from one another than are different emotions from within the same category (e.g., sadness and joy differ more than, say, sadness and melancholy); this doesn't preclude that there are nuances within categories as well. The notion of an emotion category is nicely captured by the word “emotion family” (e.g., Ekman, 1992). Each family includes a “theme” and its “variations.” The “theme” represents the common characteristics of the basic emotion and the “variations” all the subtle nuances and shadings that might occur within the category. Laukka and Juslin (2007) reported that listeners could accurately recognize various intensity levels (high or low) of basic emotions in both vocal and musical expressions. Hence, there's an implicit dimensionality within basic-level emotion categories. Schubert (2010) points out that although we often think of using continuous-response methodology only with respect to dimensional models, it's perfectly possible to collect continuous ratings of discrete emotions also (e.g., to rate the amount of sadness while the music unfolds). In addition, many emotion researchers postulate “secondary” or “mixed” emotions which are founded on basic emotions, but that involve “blends” of emotions (Plutchik, 1994), or specific cognitive appraisals which occur together with a basic emotion (Oatley, 1992). Hence, Johnson-Laird and Oatley (1989) were able to sort several hundreds of emotion terms into just five basic emotion categories or some subset of them. Basic-emotion theories are able to accommodate diversity and nuances, including ebb and flow in emotion over time.

Myth 4: “Basic emotions are always full-blown responses.” Basic emotions are commonly depicted by critics in a stereotyped manner, which borders on caricature: it's usually about hair-raising fear when confronted by a bear! But basic emotions may vary in intensity (e.g., from frustration or irritation to anger and rage). There is nothing in the concept of basic emotions as such that requires that the emotion will always be intense. Basic emotions are typically portrayed in such a way by critics in order to make the emotions appear irrelevant in everyday life (or in music). Are basic emotions relevant in everyday life? In the context of vocal expression, Cowie et al. (1999) asked participants to select a subset of emotions that they thought were important in everyday life. This produced a list of 16 emotions and labels chosen included basic emotions in different variants such as anger, fear, happiness, sadness, love, worry, interest and affection (cf. Panksepp's seven emotional systems): we feel irritated when we can't find a parking space; tender when our children greet us; anxious when we receive letters from the tax office; or enthusiastic when we get a paper accepted. The mere fact that most emotions experienced in everyday life aren't particularly intense does not imply that they do not involve basic-emotion categories6. Consider Plutchik's (1994) cone model of basic emotions (Figure ​1). The circular arrangement shows the degree of similarity among the emotions, whereas the vertical dimension shows the intensity dimension. One consequence of this arrangement is that emotions of a lower intensity are closer to each other, and hence more similar, than are emotions of a high intensity. It may be that music often operates in the lower section of the cone, rather than in the extreme section representing “full-blown emotions,” but the same emotion categories are still involved. Therefore, we may not always “detect” discrete emotions in everyday life situations or in musical expressions, simply because milder versions of basic emotions involve more subtle differences.

Figure 1

Plutchik's “cone model” of emotion (adapted from Plutchik, 1994).

Myth 5: “Basic emotions are not relevant in music.” The above myths can explain a further myth: that basic emotions are irrelevant in the context of musical expression. One moment's reflection suggests the opposite—if there is any type of emotions that could be expected to have a strong and natural link to musical expression, then it's the basic-emotion type: basic emotions can be conveyed nonverbally through gesture and tone of voice using similar patterns (e.g., Clynes, 1977; Juslin, 1997), whereas more complex emotions don't have similarly distinct nonverbal patterns. We also saw that emotions that are regarded as basic emotions (e.g., happiness, sadness, anger, tenderness, fear) seem easiest to express and perceive in music, as indexed by listener agreement (Gabrielsson and Juslin, 2003) and ratings by both musicians (Lindström et al., 2003) and listeners (Juslin and Laukka, 2004). Zentner and Eerola (2010) submit that discrete-emotion models were not developed to study music. This is of course true, but in the context of perceived emotion, this misses the greater point: that music probably evolved on the foundation of vocal expressions of basic emotions. Hence, examples of such basic emotions may easily be found also in commercially available recorded music. For example, Leech-Wilkinson (2006) offers a large number of examples of “expressive gestures” used by singers to express basic emotions, such as fear, sadness, anger, love, and disgust in Schubert Lieder (see also analysis by Spitzer, 2010). Further, if we leave classical music aside for the moment—since it is a minority interest in the world, and even in the Western world (Hargreaves, 1986)—and look at the types of music most frequently heard in everyday life, we find that popular music involves songs about things that matter to people, the stuff that makes them happy, sad, angry, afraid, or tender.

Myth 6: “Basic emotions have dominated in studies of music and emotion.” This concerns the increasingly common claim that basic or discrete emotions have somehow dominated in music and emotion research. The actual data reveal something else. Eerola and Vuoskoski (2013) recently reviewed studies of music and emotion published over a ten-year period (from 1988 to 2009). They found that about one third of these studies adopted a basic or discrete-emotions perspective. This shows, then, that the majority of studies of music and emotion have not focused on basic emotions. This is even more true, if one extends the time-frame of the overview. For instance, Gabrielsson and Juslin (2003), who reviewed studies of emotional expression in music from the 1890's, observed that the concept of basic emotions, and other influences from emotion psychology in general, have come into studies of musical expression quite recently, and then primarily in studies of music performance. In most of the investigations to date, the emotions measured have instead been chosen based on statements from philosophers and music theorists; suggestions from previous studies; and intuition, folk psychology, and personal experience. All together, the emotion labels used in previous work are counted in hundreds. Therefore, the view that basic emotions have dominated in previous studies of music and emotion is largely a “straw man”7.

A positive explanatory role of basic emotions

If we can get past the above myths about basic emotions, and consider the concept on its own merits, we may find that it can be highly heuristic to our understanding of musical expression. Few researchers in the music field have explicitly adopted a basic-emotions approach (but see Clynes, 1977). I proposed such an approach specifically in the context of studies of emotional expression in the performance of music (and not as an all-encompassing solution for the field of musical emotion), because I thought the concept could uniquely help to account for several of the findings in that field (see Juslin, 1997). The findings that have amassed since then have only reinforced this belief. Hence, consistent with the idea that emotional expression in music performance is mainly based on a code for vocal expression of basic emotions that has served important functions throughout evolution is evidence that:

  • Basic emotions in vocal expressions can be recognized cross-culturally, even in traditional cultures (Bryan and Barrett, 2008)

  • Basic emotions in vocal expression are perceived categorically (e.g., de Gelder and Vroomen, 1996; Laukka, 2005)

  • It is notoriously difficult to “retrain” a participant so as to express a specific basic emotion with a different expressive pattern (Clynes, 1977, pp. 44–45)

  • There are significant similarities between vocal expression and musical expression of basic emotions (Juslin and Laukka, 2003; Table 7)

  • There is a similar pattern of age-related differences in recognition of emotions from vocal expression and music performance (Laukka and Juslin, 2007; see also Lima and Castro, 2011)

  • Congenitally amusic individuals (with deficits in processing acoustic and structural attributes of music) are significantly worse than matched controls at decoding basic emotions in vocal expressions (Thompson et al., 2012)

  • Basic emotions are easier to communicate than complex emotions in music (Gabrielsson and Juslin, 1996; cf. Senju and Ohgushi, 1987)

  • Basic emotions in music can be recognized cross-culturally (Fritz et al., 2009)

  • Basic emotions in music show high cross-cultural agreement, whereas non-basic emotions show low cross-cultural agreement (Laukka et al., 2013)

  • Basic emotions such as sorrow, anger, love, joy and fear are explicitly part of many non-Western theories of musical emotions (e.g., Becker, 2004, p. 58)

  • Decoding of basic emotions in music is very quick (Peretz et al., 1998; Bigand et al., 2005)

  • Decoding of basic emotions in music does not require musical training (e.g., Juslin, 1997; Vieillard et al., 2008)

  • Expression of basic emotions in music does not require musical training (Yamasaki, 2002)

  • Even children (3 or 4 years old) are able to decode basic emotions in music with better than chance accuracy (Cunningham and Sterling, 1988; Terwogt and van Grinsven, 1991)

  • Even children are be able to use voice-related cues to express basic emotions in their songs (Adachi and Trehub, 1998)

  • The ability to decode basic emotions in music performances is correlated with measures of emotional intelligence (Resnicow et al., 2004)

  • There are cross-cultural similarities in cue utilization for features shared between vocal expression and musical expression (Balkwill and Thompson, 1999; Laukka et al., 2013)

  • Decoding of basic emotions in music performances involves many of the same brain regions as perception of basic emotions in vocal expression (Escoffier et al., 2013)

It is my strong belief that no other emotion approach can nearly as convincingly account for the above findings regarding expression of emotion in music performance. The dimensional approach would have to explain why there is categorical perception of emotional expression if emotions are processed as continuous dimensions. It would also have to explain why some emotions are more easily expressed and recognized than others, if all emotions can be placed along the same continuous dimensions. Component-process theories would have to show that there are as many recognizable emotion categories in musical expression as there are possible appraisal-combination outcomes. This is a tall order, and I do not expect it to happen anytime soon. In contrast, a basic-emotions approach (Juslin, 1998) predicts categorical perception of emotions and higher listener agreement or decoding accuracy for emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and tenderness.


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