October 22, 2017

Getting a Thrill Out of Playing the Piano

One of the elements of piano composition is emotion. What kind of feelings does the composer want the listener to experience? It is the pianist who must identify those elements – and express them – in order to elicit the appropriate response from the audience.

Researcher Blumstein (2012)1 explored this scary phenomenon, which links sound to biological responses.  He Found that nonlinear sound, especially if it is not expected, can evoke fear. Some of the specific aspects include introducing a minor key, musical dissonance, distortion noise, numerous abrupt shifts up and down in pitch, and rapid rising musical phrases. These sounds are more evocative, and they often stimulate biological responses related to fear and danger (such as a child screaming). 

So if you want to have a spooky Halloween musical experience, you might play one of these piano pieces (in order of probable easiness):
·         Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by J. S. Bach
·         Danse Macabre by C. Saint-Saens
·         Hungarian Dance No. 5 by J. Brahms
·         William Tell Overture by G. Rossini
·         Totentanz by F. Liszt
·         Lacrymosa (from Requiem) by W. Mozart
·         Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Opus 31, No. 2 (Tempest) by L. van Beethoven
·         Pictures at an Exhibition by M. Mussorgsky
·         Piano Sonata No. 1, Opus 22 by A. Ginastera
·         The Isle of the Dead, Opus 29 by S. Rachmaninoff

Blumstein, D., Bryant, G., & Kaye, P. (2012). The sound of arousal in music is context-dependent. Biology Letters. DOI:

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