“Hearing music as . . .”: Metaphors evoked by the sound of classical music.

Schaerlaeken SGlowinski D, Rappaz MA, Grandjean D.

Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 29(2-3), 100–116. https://doi.org/10.1037/pmu0000233


Can we modify our experience of music by “hearing it as . . .”? It is thought that musical meaning partly arises through the use of cross-domain mappings, or metaphors. These metaphors allow the listener to conceptualize music differently, explaining one domain in terms of another, regardless of musical expertise. The aim of the present line of experiments was to produce a dimensional model of the different metaphors used in Western classical music for a population of musicians and nonmusicians. With a large pool of 540 participants and 3 successive studies based on participants’ own musical experiences (Study 1) and on musical excerpts (Studies 2 and 3), we reduced an extensive list of metaphors collected at concerts to 5 final categories. The experimental setup was based on a combination of exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to first extract a preliminary model of 5 factors and subsequently to confirm this model with a large number of participants. The resulting Geneva Musical Metaphors Scale comprises 5 metaphorical scales: Flow, Movement, Force, Interior, and Wandering. This model provides insight into how musicians and nonmusicians approach the use of metaphors when listening to Western classical music. This model might provide scientific grounds for music educators, musicians, and guided imagery and music practitioners to improve communication and teaching. It also creates a new way to label musical excerpts and classify them. Finally, this research offers a basis for investigating the understudied role of metaphors and visual imagery in classical music.