The top tear-jerker of 2011 was, without a doubt, Adele's heart-wrenching ballad "Someone Like You". SNL made light of the fact with a sketch in which people played the track just to get out a good cry. But why does the song induce waterworks? Sure, Adele's baring her soul for all to see, including a guy who she can apparently no longer have—but is that it? According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, no, there's a lot more to a sad song than the lyrics.
WSJ spoke with Martin Guhn, psychologist at the University of British Columbia, who wrote a 2007 study on what makes a sad song. While working on his study, he poured over results from an experiment conducted by British psychologist John Sloboda who asked people to identify songs that brought about a physical reaction in them. Dr. Guhn found one notable constant: a musical device called an "appoggiatura."
From the report:
An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. "This generates tension in the listener," said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. "When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good."
According to Dr. Guhn, Adele's "Someone Like You", which is nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance, contains a number of notes similar to appoggiaturas. The way she modulates her voice throughout the song also work to bring out physical emotional reactions.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. It's all very interesting. Head over to The Wall Street Journal to learn all about what makes a tear-jerker and why Adele's smash hit perfectly fits the bill.