How are tempo and emotions related?

It is known by us all that music effects how we feel. My inquiry explores specifically how tempo effects emotion. (Hunt, 2015) confirms that music perception, emotion and music, and sensory processing and music, have been discovered and researched in great detail by psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists. There has been a marked increase of research in neuropsychology, specifically in the area that relates music and emotion. (Peretz, 2010). The works of Samson and Ehrlé (2003) focused their efforts on rhythm. van der Zwaag et. al. (2011) agrees that tempo is an inherent property of musical structure which is known to influence the emotions of listeners.

I have researched, read papers, watched a number of educational videos as well as conducted my own qualitative research in the area of tempo and emotion.

The qualitative research I engaged in included asking the Harrison the Artist audience via my Facebook Page and Instagram Page which tempo they preferred out of three tempos. I ask them what emotions came up when listening to a song called Wait (Remix), prior to it’s release (see video below). The example demonstrated the original tempo (tempo 2 at 60bpm) as well as a tempo 10% slower (tempo 1 at 54bpm) and a tempo 10% faster (tempo 3 at 66bpm).


Results were still coming in at the time of writing. These are the results and observations from the qualitative research:

  1. over 37 people participated.
  2. over 9 adult males participated.
  3. over 10 adult females participated.
  4. 18 children under the age of 11 participated.

My observations are that:

  1. Mostly women preferred tempo 2, the original tempo of the piece. (Tempo 1: Dan, Andrew, Andreas, Taneka, Stuart, Ash, Jenn; Between tempo 1 & 2: Michael & Jan Tempo 2: Anna, Ro, Bec, Gavin, Bekka, Bree; Kristin, Teresa Tempo 3: Lizzie, Clinton, Toby).
  2. Out of the 18 children that participated, the majority (over half) preferred tempo 3 with the balance splitting between tempo 1 and 2. They claimed it was more “happy”.
  3. Emotions described at each tempo were as follows (if emotions are listed twice, this is because participants mentioned the same emotion in their feedback):
    1. Tempo 1: determined, solid, reliable, strong, calming, uneasiness, peacefulness, relaxation, happiness, anticipation, peacefulness, drawn out and stagnant, relaxing, disjointed, didn’t flow, stilted, playful, sexy, playful, reminiscent, sensual, primal, longing, sad.
    2. Tempo 2: powerful, chaotic, uplifting, uneasiness, atmospheric, powerful, fresh, alive, active, relaxing, nostalgic, busier, head-nodder, positivity, enthusiasm, fit better, movement, hope, adventurous, exploratory, optimistic, anticipation.
    3. Tempo 3: upbeat, anticipation, no emotion, optimism, the forefront of mind, uplifting, energetic, soaring, happy, the buzz gets to me, clinical.


The educational videos I explored can be found here:

My conclusions are:

  • listeners are aware that that time of day and other outside factors may affect their perceptions when they are conscious about listening.
  • the effect that music and tempo has on emotion is a large area of study with many variable factors such as note values used within the tempo.
  • Slower tempos are associated with sadness and faster tempos are associated with happiness.
  • Music is one of the most powerful ways to active memory, feelings and emotion in the brain.
  • Tension increases between 80 – 150bpm, as does expressiveness and happiness.
  • Tempos around Moderato are linked to admiration and trust.
  • Sadness in increased at slower tempos and as tempos slow.
  • Anger and rage can be linked with tempos over 168bpm
  • Grave (25-45bpm) tempos can be associated with grief, sadness and pensiveness.
  • Largo tempos (40-60bpm) can be linked to arrogance
  • Andante (76-108bpm) can be linked with serenity and joy.
  • Tempos of 150bpm and 120bpm using sixteenth notes evoke surprise
  • Also tempos of 150bpm using sixteenth notes evoke stress
  • Tempos at 90bpm using whole and half notes can evoke feelings of sadness, boredom, expressionless though can also be relaxing.
  • Tempos using 90 or 120 or 150bpm using whole and half notes, eighth notes or syncopated or dotted notes can evoke a pleasant feeling.

Given the above conclusions and feedback from my audience, I have released the song at 60bpm as this reflected the emotions that I was trying to evoke with the song.

Egermann, H . (2014, September) Emotional Responses to Music: Hauke Egermann at TEDxGhent. Retrieved from:

BuzzFeedVideo (2017, February) How Music Affects Your Brian: Retrieved from:

Hunt, A. (2015). Boundaries and potentials of traditional and alternative neuroscience research methods in music therapy research. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 39:342.

Life Noggin (2016, April) This Is Your Brain On Music. Retrieved from:

Peretz, I. (2010). “Towards a neurobiology of musical emotion,” in Handbook of Music and Emotion: Theory, Research, and Applications, eds P. Juslin and J. Sloboda (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 99–126.

Psych2Go (2015, July) Psychology of Music. Retrieved from:

Samson, S., and Ehrlé, N. (2003). “Cerebral substrates for musical temporal processes,” in The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music, eds I. Peretz and R. Zatorre (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 204–216.

Seeker (2013, March) How Music Affects Your Brain. Retrieved from:

van der Zwaag, M. D., Westerink, J. H., and van den Broek, E. L. (2011). Emotional and psychophysiological responses to tempo, mode, and percussiveness. Music. Sci. 15, 250–269.

World Science Festival (2015, Marc) Neuroscientist Talks Music’s Effects on the Brain. Retrieved from: