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Ode to Joy

A question of tempo

In 2013, Pharell Williams found the recipe for making the whole world “HAPPY”. Studies reveal that there definitely seems to be a secret when it comes to composing music and creating tunes that hit the spot every time. A magic formula that has been scientifically analyzed by specialists.

Certain tunes have universal power (or almost) on the mind. There are those that are inevitably depressing and those that thrill us, the latter being far more interesting to decipher. It works every time one listens: right from the first bars, we feel our spirits lifting, resulting in a lighter heart and an unquenchable desire to sing. A true cure for melancholy that has no side effects and can be accessed simply by pressing “play”. The ultimate archetypal feel-good song, Pharell Williams’ “Happy” deserves its name, but that is no accident…


émotion musicale

Shutterstock © Oneinchpunch

Personal hit parade

In music as in many other areas, tastes differ. The emotion stirred by listening to a song or looking at a painting can hardly be argued. Like writer Nick Hornby in his novel, High Fidelity, we all have playlists of our favorite songs, whether they relate to romance, coping with a breakup, dancing the night away, driving in the car… Each personal hit parade depends on an individual’s situation and history. Nonetheless, some compositions create a kind of unanimous positivity and flood most people with a wave of elation.

Trial hits

It goes without saying that scientists have studied this mystery and attempted to discover fundamental constants by analyzing the most popular songs. In this regard, Dr Jacob Jolij,
a neuroscience researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, has highlighted three characteristics shared by all of them. Firstly, a beat of 150 BPM (beats per minute), markedly higher than the average; secondly, positive words on themes such as going to a party or to the beach, sharing a good time with a loved one; and finally, a preference for major notes. Dr Jolij emphasizes that this mysterious equation draws more on data mining than on pure scientific hard reasoning. Could this be a means of creating sure-fire hits?

Algorithme tube musical

(FGI: Feel Good Song, BPM: Beats Per Minute, K: Key) © J. Jolij.

The algorithm of joy-provoking rythm




The ultimate playlist

According to the algorithm defined by Dr Jolij, here are the top feel good songs from the past 50 years

11 – Don’t Stop Me Now / Queen
12 – Dancing Queen / Abba
13 – Good Vibrations / The Beach Boys
14 – Uptown Girl / Billy Joel
15 – Eye of the Tiger / Survivor
16 – I’m a Believer / The Monkees
17 – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun / Cyndi Lauper
18 – Livin’ on a Prayer / Jon Bon Jovi
19 – I Will Survive / Gloria Gaynor
10 – Walking on Sunshine / Katrina & The Waves

Not convinced? If we do the same exercise with a single song per decade, here are the ones that have been top of the pops over the past six:

1960 – Good Vibrations / The Beach Boys
1970 – Don’t Stop Me Now / Queen
1980 – Uptown Girl / Billy Joel
1990 – Let Me Entertain You / Robbie Williams
2000 – Dancing in the Moonlight / Toploader
2010 – Happy / Pharell Williams

Musical emotion

No matter what the music style, listening can
stir powerful emotions, as well as just joy. It all starts with the ears but the most important thing takes place in the brain. Professor Bigand, head of cognitive psychology at Bourgogne University, differentiates between eight mechanisms involved almost instantly in dealing with a sound signal. Music releases a veritable physiological and biochemical tsunami, which has an effect on cardiac and respiratory rate, blood pressure and the activation of neurotransmitters. It is therefore hardly a surprise that everyone has their own playlist to give themselves a boost, calm down, sleep, unwind... Increasingly often, sound design is a factor in designing various areas of daily life such as restaurants, sports halls, and airports. And we sincerely trust that listening to La Réserve’s playlists, available on request, will bring you plenty of joy!

by Anne-Marie Clerc





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