Musical understanding, musical works, and emotional expression: Implications for education

David J. Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What do musicians, critics, and listeners mean when they use emotion‐words to describe a piece of instrumental music? How can ‘pure’ musical sounds ‘express’ emotions such as joyfulness, sadness, anguish, optimism, and anger? Sounds are not living organisms; sounds cannot feel emotions. Yet many people around the world believe they hear emotions in sounds and/or feel the emotions expressed by musical patterns. Is there a reasonable explanation for this dilemma? These issues gain additional importance when we ask them in the context of music education. For example, can we, or should we, teach music students to listen‐for musical expressions of emotion? If so, how? My contention is that listeners can and do hear emotions in musical patterns; musical sounds can be expressive of emotions. Accordingly, I offer ideas for teaching students how to hear and create musical expressions of emotions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-103
Number of pages11
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005


  • Emotion
  • Expression
  • Music
  • Musical works
  • Musicianship
  • Performance
  • Praxial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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