Emotion Tagging?

Hi there,

As I am learning more about chord harmonies & progressions, I keep hearing people refer to certain combinations sounding “sad”, “melancholic”, or right out like from a “horror movie” (apparently the common styles I tend to gravitate toward in my sound experiments). I was wondering if there is a good source that documents which chords/progressions tend to (most commonly) evoke which sort of emotion. I understand that part of that is subjective experience, but there seems to be a societal consensus (at least within a particular culture) on how certain sound combinations tend to be perceived in terms of the mood they evoke.

Could this possibly be an opportunity for a future Scaler release, to organize/tag the library of chords/progressions with the feelings they evoke, based on common use in media/entertainment, such as movie scores?


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If you look at the description of the Scales in Scaler they are already there —

Right, I forgot about that. It’s even searchable by style, which is awesome!
But not quite what I meant, or only partially there. There seems to be a quality in chords themselves, and sometimes particular progressions. Or are you saying that any chord/progression making use of a particular scale with these qualities will automatically evoke those impressions (per the style indicated)?

So for example, I searched for “exotic” and found the “C# Double Harmonic Major Scale”…

I see the major and minor chords, and a augmented and suspended, increasingly dissonant or begging to be resolved. Then the red circled one doesn’t seem to have a special music theory name but sounds the most dissonant. So this whole sequence of increasingly dissonant buildup (dramatic? horror? sadness?) and then resolving. Maybe the “Question & Answer” theme mentioned in the other thread is related to this?

It’s really a music theory and production discussion but I would say that the chord progression is the half of it. All the other embellishment that goes with it is what really creates that emotive feel.
I think listening through the cinematic chord sets and seeing how they feel different is more of what you are after (from memory) epic, sad ending, suspense etc etc.

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Spectrasonics Omnisphere has a patch browser which has multiple categories like Mood, Genre, Source type and so on (Textures Soundscape / Ambient / Euphoric/), and a means for you to locally rate the usefulness to your work. Its value is rather hit or miss at the fine level, but at least with “Childlike” vs “Nightmarish” you can guess which might or might not work with your melodic ambient piece. [Omnisphere now has 14,000 presets, so even these things help].

I suspect it will be much harder with a MIDI base, because samples have characteristics largely “baked in”. Scales are complex because unless looked at the mode level, there is no ‘mood’ - the notes of C ionian are the same as A natural minor; without some harmonic context the “sadness” of the minor third doesn’t come out. Also, a note played as a ‘passing’ note might imply one mood, whilst given more prominence, another - a flat 5 might be an example - fine in a heptonic blues scale, dissonant in the ultralocrian.

It gets even more complex with sequences of chords.

I’ve had a look at this because I (foolishly) thought rather than audition a vast number of permutations of ‘songs’ sequences vs performances etc, I thought it might be possible to automate the process by trying to identify where dissonances would occur with each pairing of chord and note sequence.

I’ve given up on this, and have settled for pencil, paper and ear.

having said that, the ‘soundmatch’ function in Omnisphere finds sounds which have similar characteristics to one you like, and that’s useful.

So at the bottom of the wish list I would possibly add

{a} a means to add a user score and mark the elements you liked - a sort of ‘favourites’ but with a 0 to 5 stars,

{b} It might just be possible, if you like a particular performance, to devise a mechanism analogous to the soundmatch in Omnisphere by identifying other sequences of both notes (performances) and chord sequences (songs) which share similar distinctive elements; conceptually analogous to Ableton’s Groove Pool.

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The obvious thing is to study film music or composers like Ravel, Debussey or Stravinksy. The Planets by Holst is a good quick study.
However for a quick fix have a wee look at Rick Beato’s youtube channel. He has lots of vids on composition and modal/chordal sounds. He talks about chords in the exact way you are looking for.

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I appreciate your suggestions, @Nickjitsu . Interesting you should mention Debussy, as he was one of my favorite composers, so much so that I dedicated one of my early chord progressions xperiments to his work… Debussy would be proud by Bernd@PDX | Free Listening on SoundCloud :slight_smile:
I’ve also looked at some of Beato’s videos, but they are too much in the old style of teaching that never worked much for me in school (we actually had music classes as part of the standard highschool curriculum) - too much talk, whiteboard, a book. Adam Neely is better example of what teaching style works better for me as learner. Incidentally, the videos of our very own @davide here are actually a better example for midlife newbie music learner’s style of picking up, the way Davide presents is very handson, practical, relatable, mimickable.

So back to the other half of my comment (the first half just concluded being about my learning style)…
How to enhance Scaler as a tool to finding/managing chord progressions along emotive characterizations…

Feature Thoughts…

  • Integrated preset browser, similar to most synths - e.g. Nexus, Omnisphere, or Komplete Kontrol

  • Integrate the various menu options around Performance, Melodies, Riffs, Themes, Motifs, Phrases, Rhythms, Basses into one holistic preset browser

  • Distinguish factory presets from user presets

  • Integrate the user saves with the overall preset browser (just like other tools that went through the evolution of having to come up with a clean way to navigate/organize their growing libraries - like Nexus 3 vs. earlier versions)

  • A tagging system, manageable by the user - same preset could be tagged in different ways, due to subjectivity or ambiguity

  • Make the preset selection automatable via MIDI messages for bank select and program select

  • Whip cream on top: a way to easily share other users’/community tagging efforts, as an analogy how on a Kindle reader for e-books you can see other people’s most common highlighted text sections (their favorite quotes). This would help with crowdsourcing/democratizing the resolution of ambiguous sentiments. Basically, turn Scaler into TWTR :wink:

If Scaler 3 would have this functionality, I would buy it all over again, no free update expected.



Great feedback and I am thinking the same way!

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@Bernd Those features will take Scaler to another level.

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It’s great to see Davide indicating interest in this direction. FWIW, my personal take is that I would much prefer to see the evolution than going down the full on DAW functions route. Scaler integrates so well with DAWs I don’t really see the stand-alone benefits.

When I first got Scaler, the other half would open the door and say “will you **’# come to bed ?” It was sort of addictive. The reason for this is that Scaler is not a drag and drop EDM clip gizmo; rather than ‘doing it for you’ it provides an amazing framework for discovery (e.g. the modulation page) to enhance one’s practical grasp of core musical issues. So it (1) aids creativity, but makes you decide what will evolve and (2) it’s simply a great tool for self musical education at multiple levels. Should be in every school.

I’m still challenged on the best way to deal with classification of combinations of “songs” with performances etc (they are clearly independent) but naturally only a percentage of the latter work well with each one of the former. Is there any better was than auditioning a bazillion cases ?? I dunno.


I agree with what you say. Yet even for delegating the management aspects to the DAW (makes sense to me), Scaler would still have to provide MIDI instrumentation. The preset system would have to be exposed so that the DAW can manage it, which appears to be common for many other VSTs. So if Scaler 3.x could provide the MIDI bank/program select options then we could indeed use the DAW to manage the details with tagging etc. Once that MIDI instrumentation is in place, then folks like Freelance Soundlabs can provide after-market tagging services for Scaler as they do for other VSTs not coming out of the box with tags.

Really interesting discussion, improving the browsing experience and overall discovery of the content is crucial.

One of the reasons Scaler feels this way is that, at the moment, it does not have a million presets you can just skip through. You have to look for what works on a basic level and play with all the features to find what inspires you in the moment.

I think the real power of Scaler is when it helps you understand why a preset sounds good or how you can expand on it. If Scaler can do this well, and we can efficiently search through the factory and user content, we will all happily browse through millions of presets in Scaler 3 :slight_smile:


Very comprehensive list of possible features for Scaler 3! specially “Integrate the various menu options around Performance, Melodies, Riffs, Themes, Motifs, Phrases, Rhythms, Basses into one holistic preset browser” I would love it to be included.

I come from the roots of blues, rock and almost simultaneously from jazz. The jazz approach has been vital for my music scope vision, opening my mind steadily to new perspectives. However, from a young age I realized that many jazz musicians are enclosed in an elitist ‘ivory tower’ and consider that emotions transmitted by the usually complex harmonic jazz structures are reserved just for a select audience of ‘elected illuminated’. That is why I always move away from that attitude and keep a constant approach to the phenomenon of music that moves the masses, pop music of the 20th and 21st .

One of the things that has mostly called my attention is what happens with trance music, ambient chill house and especially Psytrance. In traditional concerts of recognized and famous artists and bands, we can observe that audiences respond emotionally to their favorite songs being performed live for their loved artists, nuanced and exalted by musical performances.

In the other hand, in a concert or festival of Psytrance or similar, the audience is taken through of intense states and emotional curves, caused by certain combinations of harmonies, chords, grooves, electronic sounds, pads, arpeggios, effects, which in the master hands of an expert DJ, leads indistinctly from the instinctive dance to a sort of spiritual trance, almost a religious experience, shared by hundreds of thousands of concert attendees In a kind of group experience where the great mass becomes a single gigantic entity.

And at least the audience is familiar with a particular artist repertoire, mix recompilation etc. that live BIG experience comes almost from the continuous masterful musical improvisation and emotions exaltation from the ‘technological shrine’ led by the DJ .

I definitely love that! I love jazz, blues etc but contemporary electronic music has been a primary energy within me…always.

Scaler allows me to explore through the universes of sensations and emotions, and although I play enough average piano, Scaler and its powerful features catalyzes my ideas blending my own perspectives with other influences and styles.