JAKES BEJOY

                          Centre for computer research in music and acoustics

                                         Stanford University


I am fundamentally interested in how music evokes emotions. I focused my research mainly in

understanding how people in the west perceived Indian rhythmic patterns used in both Carnatic

and Hindustani music styles. I wanted explore a cross cultural correlation and study about how

the western world perceives and enjoys eastern music. How can something so abstract and

seemingly unconnected with adaptive behavior, induce such profound, visceral states. My

research focuses on expectation evoked-emotion, such as the tension and resolution that occurs

when rhythm satisfies or defies expectations, as well as innate auditory cues.


Indian percussion instruments have for long considered to have an ability to evoke emotions as

their presence is felt exclusively in all Indian dance forms and at major festivals. Indian

musicians have for centuries focused on maximizing utilization of every simple phrase learnt,

building them up into more complex ideas. Both in the north and the south of India there are

many forms of rhythm theme development employed. Thaalam is the Indian definition for meter.

It could be defined as a tool for measuring the tempo and also to some extend the structure of the

song.Alangaraas are the ornamentations that are added in order to enhance the listening

experience. In this experiment I tried to include extensive use of alankaaras so as to compare the

effect on the listening experience of the western listener with and without them.

Getting the excerpts

The excerpts were collected from renowned musicians in the Bay area who have a good

understanding of the basics in classical music.6 various thaalam was played without any

alankaaras and later they were asked to add various changes to the rhythm structure. The

recording procedure was done in a studio with spaced pair technique. Various percussion

instruments used for the experiment are table,mridhangam,duff,diggis,udukka and morsing


I recently undertook a web-based survey in which participants were asked to listen to fourteen

rhythm excerpts and rate the extent to which they were evoked by the excerpt based on

familiarity,surprising,happy,sad,overwhelming,arousing. To ensure generalization, several

excerpts were used for each rhythm, and one was chosen randomly for each subject.

A total of 65 subjects participated, making a total 5460 judgments, where each judgment was the

assignment of a score to a particular emotion for a particular rhythm excerpt. I also collected

some demographic data specifically, age, sex, years of musical training, and overall familiarity

with Indian Classical Music. 20.0% of subjects reported having 'no' familiarity with Indian

classical music, 34% 'a little', 41% were 'somewhat' familiar, and 5% were very familiar.

I presented the results of this experiment at the final presentation for the music 151 class at


Survey Results

Survey results clearly revealed that a great majority of the western audience enjoy Indian

rhythms when they are ornamented and played with a lot of alankaaraas in them. Teen Taal a

very popular thaalam in North Indian classical music was considered familiar and less

interesting. When the same thaalam was played with more ornamentation in them, it turned out

to be extremely interesting and surprising. It was the same thaalam with some amount of

improvisations. It is interesting to note that this was the case for majority of the thaalam that

were played with some ornamentation.

It can be observed that people had a wide range of opinions about each thaalam.Most of the

thaalams were considered happy and refreshing although few were considered to be sad.

Surprisingly a thaalam named roopak which is generally considered to be happy and arousing in

India was considered to be sad and depressing. Overall the results showed a clear indication that

people like the rhythmic patterns with a lot of improvisations.

There was also an added psychoacoustic effect that was included with all the recording and that

was to delay the individual channels of audio to produce a kind of spatial feel to the entire

recording and it turns out that all these effects were much appreciated in the context of having

played them in an Indian style. I am interested to know what causes these correlations. I am

assuming that while these rhythm patterns are played in a random fashion, some form of

structure is formed that has some relation to the western contour and as a result produces this

profound liking for the pattern among the western audience.

Teen Taal----Familiarity on a scale of 1 to 10

 #   Answer                                       Response     %

 0   0                                                5       14%

 1   1                                                1        3%

 2   2                                                1        3%

 3   3                                                2        6%

 4   4                                                1        3%

 5   5                                                2        6%

 6   6                                                3        8%

 7   7                                                3        8%

 8   8                                                6       17%

 9   9                                                0        0%

10   10                                              12       33%

     Total                                           36       100%

Do you find it Interesting?

 #   Answer                                             Response     %

16   Definitely yes                                         8      27%

17   Probably yes                                          11       37%

18   Maybe                                                  8      27%

19   Probably not                                           3       10%

20   Definitely not                                         0       0%

     Total                                                 30      100%

Emotional Content of Teen Taal

When the same Teen Taal was played with more ornamentation in them, it turned out to be

extremely interesting and surprising. It was the same thaalam with some amount of

improvisations. It is interesting to note that this was the case for majority of the thaalam’s that

were played with some ornamentation. Here is the result of Teen Taal improvised

Teen Taal Improvised ----Familiarity(upon a scale of 1 to 10)

 #   Answer                                          Response   %

 0   0                                                   6     21%

 1   1                                                   2      7%

 2   2                                                   2     7%

 3   3                                                   0      0%

 4   4                                                   2     7%

 5   5                                                   3     10%

 6   6                                                   3     10%

 7   7                                                   1      3%

 8   8                                                   5     17%

 9   9                                                   1      3%

10   10                                                  4     14%

Do you find it Interesting?

 #   Answer                                                  Response     %

 7   Definitely yes                                             16       62%

 8   Probably yes                                                7       27%

 9   Probably not                                                2       8%

10   Definitely not                                              1        4%

     Total                                                      26      100%

Going through this table clearly gives us a notion that 62% of the people who heard Teen Taal

improvised found it to be definitely interesting. This was the same case with majority of the thaalam

that was used for the experiment. The emotional content for the ones that were improvised were found

to be more arousing and less happy. Except for Roopak Taal none of the other Taal was considered to be

sad. Generally it is known that only pitched instruments can evoke emotions but Indian instruments

have a peculiar nature of evoking emotions as each of them have certain amount of pitched nature

.Professional percussion player have the right skill to play these instruments in a way that will be self

explanatory in terms of the nature of the emotion they evoke.

Emotional Content

Further Study

It will be interesting to take this study further by taking advantage on the results of this

experiment. From this survey it is understood that people in the west have a great liking for

Indian music and they appreciate it better if there are subtle improvisations in the rhythm

patterns that are played. It will be of great interest to study on these patterns while comparing

them with a western classical contour. The next experiment would be to take a popular western

contour and play it using an Indian percussion Instrument while maintaining the rules of each

thaalam.In a similar way there should be a eastern contour played using a western rhythm

instrument. It will be interesting to find out the correlation thus resulting in a new study of cross

cultural music perception.