Comparing Word Affect and Tone Affect: Comment on Sun and Cuthbert 2017


  • Yke Schotanus Utrecht University



music, language, emotion, affect, mode, syncopation


In the article "Emotion Painting: Lyric, affect, and musical relationships in a large lead-sheet corpus", Sun and Cuthbert (2017) explored the correlations between affect-carrying lyrics and musical features such as beat strength, pitch height, consonance, and mode. Several musical features did indeed turn out to be highly correlated with the affect of the lyrics. However, correlations between other features, particularly mode-related musical features and lyric affect, were either insignificant or even contradicted previous research. In the current commentary, it is argued that the difference between the musical features that show significant correlations and those that do not is that the former have a local musical effect whereas the latter tend to affect the mood of a whole phrase or piece, and that the way Sun and Cuthbert estimate lyric affect for sentences or song may not be appropriate. Furthermore, a few remarks are made about the way Sun and Cuthbert treat multi-syllable words and about some basic assumptions concerning the relation between music and lyrics in a song. Nevertheless, the authors are praised for their innovative and interesting work, while several alternative and additional analyses (for example with scale-degree qualia and syncopations) are proposed.