Music is an art form that conveys emotions through sound, melody, harmony, and other elements.

In music composition, chords are an important musical element and a tool for expressing emotions and intentions. This article will explore how to better use chords to enhance the expressiveness of music from both acoustic and audience perspectives.

The Influence of Acoustic Characteristics on Chord Colors

A chord is a combination of two or more notes that, when played together, produce a certain sense of harmony. There are many types of chords, which can be classified according to the size of the intervals and the order of the notes. Among them, the most common types are major and minor chords, which consist of a major third and a minor third, or a minor third and a major third, respectively. Different chords have different acoustic characteristics, and their frequency, amplitude, and harmonics can affect the color of the sound. For example, a triad is the most basic form of chord, consisting of root, third, and fifth notes whose frequency ratios are 4:5:6, making the triad sound bright and stable. A seventh chord, on the other hand, adds a seventh note (which is usually a flattened seventh, i.e. a note lower than the root by a half step) to the triad, creating tension and a darker atmosphere.

Triad $f_1=f_0\left(\frac{4}{4}\right),\ f_3=f_1\left(\frac{5}{4}\right),\ f_5=f_1\left(\frac{6}{4}\right)$
Seventh chord $f_1=f_0\left(\frac{4}{4}\right),\ f_3=f_1\left(\frac{5}{4}\right),\ f_5=f_1\left(\frac{6}{4}\right),\ f_7=f_1\left(\frac{7}{4}\right)$

To increase the expressive power of a chord in performance, additional notes called overtones can be added to enrich the sound. Overtones can be any note on the chromatic scale outside of the root, third, or fifth notes, and they can change the nature of a chord or add special effects. For example, adding a ninth note (one whole tone higher than the root) to a major triad creates a ninth chord, which has a more open and romantic sound; adding a flattened ninth note (half a tone higher than the root) to a minor triad creates a flat ninth chord, which has a more tense and mysterious sound.

Ninth chord $f_1=f_0\left(\frac{4}{4}\right),\ f_3=f_1\left(\frac{5}{4}\right),\ f_5=f_1\left(\frac{6}{4}\right),\ f_9=f_1\left(\frac{9}{4}\right)$
Flatted ninth chord $f_1=f_0\left(\frac{4}{4}\right),\ f_3=f_1\left(\frac{5}{4}\right),\ f_5=f_1\left(\frac{6}{4}\right),\ f_{\flat9}=f_1\left(\frac{17}{12}\right)$

One of the ways to enhance the expressiveness of music is to use the acoustic characteristics of chords effectively. Chords are combinations of three or more different notes played simultaneously, and they can have different qualities and types depending on the intervals and number of notes used. For example, in classical music works, composers often use progressive chords to create tension and express the emotional elements depicted in the music. Progressive chords are chords that move away from the tonic or home key, such as dominant seventh chords or diminished chords. These chords have a strong tendency to resolve to a more stable chord, and they can create contrast and drama in the musical structure. By understanding how chords are constructed from scales and how they relate to each other, musicians can achieve better emotional and intentional expression in their music.

Perception of Chord Colors from the Audience Perspective

Chords have a profound impact on people’s emotions and feelings. Different cultures have different understandings of chord colors. Therefore, when creating music, chord types and application methods should be selected based on the cultural background and emotional experience of the audience.

According to the study of “Music Psychology,” the audience’s perception of chords is subjective and influenced by social culture and experience. For example, in traditional Chinese music, people prefer to use relatively simple chord structures to express its unique philosophical and aesthetic meanings. Therefore, in music creation, it is necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the audience’s cultural background and emotional experience, and to use chords reasonably in order to achieve effective expression of emotions and intentions.

Some suggestions for creating music with chord colors are:

  • Use major chords to convey happiness, optimism, and confidence. Major chords are bright and cheerful, and can create a positive mood for the audience. For example, C major, G major, and D major are common major chords that can be used in uplifting songs.
  • Use minor chords to convey sadness, melancholy, and nostalgia. Minor chords are dark and gloomy, and can create a negative mood for the audience. For example, A minor, E minor, and B minor are common minor chords that can be used in sorrowful songs.
  • Use augmented chords to convey surprise, curiosity, and suspense. Augmented chords are unstable and dissonant, and can create a sense of tension and anticipation for the audience. For example, C augmented, G augmented, and D augmented are common augmented chords that can be used in mysterious songs.
  • Use diminished chords to convey fear, anxiety, and danger. Diminished chords are harsh and discordant, and can create a sense of dread and horror for the audience. For example, C diminished, G diminished, and D diminished are common diminished chords that can be used in scary songs.
  • Use dominant seventh chords to convey excitement, passion, and climax. Dominant seventh chords are powerful and expressive, and can create a sense of resolution and satisfaction for the audience. For example, C7, G7, and D7 are common dominant seventh chords that can be used in energetic songs.

Other Factors Affecting Chord Colors

Apart from acoustic characteristics and audience perspective, other factors such as instruments, playing techniques, rhythm, and speed can also affect chord colors. The timbre characteristics of different instruments need to be reasonably used when composing and arranging chords, while fast and smooth playing methods can usually enhance the vitality and tension of chords, making them more impactful and expressive. When designing chords, the musical environment, style, and situation should also be considered, combined with the specific context and the audience’s background to select chords.

Chord colors are not only determined by the acoustic properties and the listener’s perception, but also by other elements such as instruments, playing techniques, rhythm, and speed. Different instruments have different timbre characteristics that can influence the sound quality and texture of chords. Therefore, composers and arrangers should use them wisely when creating and arranging chords. Moreover, fast and smooth playing techniques can often increase the energy and tension of chords, making them more striking and emotive. When choosing chords, the musical setting, style, and scenario should also be taken into account, along with the particular context and the listener’s background to select chords.


Music is a powerful medium for expressing emotions and creating moods. However, music creation is not a simple process of combining sounds and rhythms. It requires a deep understanding of the musical cues that convey different emotional characters and how they interact with each other and with the listener’s expectations and experiences.

Therefore, in the process of music creation, it is necessary to comprehensively consider the characteristics of Chords, Instrument timbre, Playing techniques, Rhythm, Speed, Cultural background & Emotional experience.

Only then can we better serve emotional expression and achieve the desired music effects. In doing so, music can be more infectious and expressive.

According to some studies, some of the primary musical cues that affect emotional expression are Mode, Tempo, Dynamics, Articulation, Timbre, Register.

These cues can operate in additive or interactive fashion, and can have linear or non-linear effects on the perceived emotions.

For example:

  • Major mode is typically associated with happiness, while minor mode is typically associated with sadness.
  • Faster tempo can evoke excitement or joy, while slower tempo can evoke calmness or sorrow.
  • Louder dynamics can convey intensity or anger, while softer dynamics can convey intimacy or tenderness.
  • Staccato articulation can suggest playfulness or nervousness, while legato articulation can suggest smoothness or sadness.
  • Bright timbre can imply clarity or cheerfulness, while dark timbre can imply mystery or melancholy.
  • Higher register can indicate lightness or surprise, while lower register can indicate heaviness or seriousness.

However, these cues are not fixed and can vary depending on the context and the listener’s preferences and associations. Therefore, music creators need to be aware of the possible interpretations and effects of their musical choices and adjust them accordingly to match their intended emotional expression.


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“Well, how to find the perfect balance is definitely a research-worthy topic. And trust me, I’m not one to dig holes lightly! This is serious stuff.”(?)