How You Describe The Mood Of Songs (And Examples)

mood of songs

Song mood is one of the most easily understood yet hard to describe elements of music. 

When describing the mood of songs, you need to be aware of how music affects mood and what specific aspects of music impact mood. 

A musical mood is the feeling a song or piece causes you to feel. They’re often compared to emotions, but they are also beyond an ability to describe easily in words. It’s the overall feeling of a piece of music. The mood is used to describe your own feeling when listening and also what the music is trying to impart. 

There’s been some research into this topic, so let’s dive in and also cover some examples of the mood of some of my favorite songs. 

Mood Of A Song Definition (Robert Thayer’s Model)

Robert Thayer conducted research into managing energy, tension, and mood in people. 

As part of this research, he developed a model for describing mood that can apply to how music makes an impact on mood too! 

For the full study, read his research here

He puts moods into categories based on how they fit on a scale in regards to energy and stress. 

They go from happy to sad (in the stress category) and calm to energetic (in the energy category). 

He theorized that all of our moods fit into these four parts and differ based on how much we have in each of the two linear scales. 

Of course, moods aren’t linear or stable, and we can feel multiple moods and such at the same time. 

But this doesn’t mean the quantifying of said moods isn’t worth looking into.

Just like people don’t always stay in the same mood or they move between moods, the same thing happens with music! 

The elements of music each have moods connected to them that are conveyed when a specific combination is met.

For example, if a piece has: 

  • Medium-fast tempo
  • Loud dynamics
  • Major tonality
  • Medium-high pitches

It may convey joy or majesty. 

In music, we look at tempo and the speed of the rhythms as the energy aspect of the mood of the song. 

This will also help you listen to music to have a positive effect on your own mood. 

If this is your goal, though, you need to listen to it actively. Don’t just let it be background music. 

Energy / Tempo

High energy pieces can be both happy and frantic. The stress level is different even though the energy is high. 

Upbeat music and light moods in popular songs can really affect your mood too! 

On the other hand, we typically associate slower tempi (or perceived slower tempi through longer rhythms) as low energy. 

The tempo/energy can even affect your heart rate. 

Dynamics / Volume

Volume or dynamics also add to the mood by affecting the happy/sad stress level of the piece. 

Louder dynamics can indicate feelings of anger or pride. 

Quieter dynamics are associated with sweetness, love, sadness, or even nervousness.

Pitch

The pitch level also impacts mood in music to a certain degree. 

Higher pitches may communicate upbeat and lighter moods, while lower pitches may seem more somber, dark, or serious moods. 

The motion of the melody also impacts the mood from the direction to how the melody moves. 

Tonality / Harmony

The tonal component of music indicates mood as well, though what we associate in the modern-day wasn’t what was always done. 

Now, we tend to view major as positive and minor as negative.

Back in medieval music time, this wasn’t the case. 

Composers would use minor to show positive feelings almost as equally as major. 

But our ears are conditioned to associate major with positive. 

It’s an easy description, but it’s more indicative of our listening as a culture too. 

There is some debate in the music world about whether music itself creates mood or whether we’ve learned to associate musical elements with aspects of mood through exposure. 

While the answer isn’t clear (it’s probably a bit of both), it’s certainly interesting to consider. 

Mood Of A Song Examples

There are dozens and dozens of examples of moods in a song, and to be fair, songs don’t always live in one mood. 

Popular music (or music made for the radio or streaming) tends to be shorter and less complex in terms of mood, so they may live in one mood with minimal switching. 

Classical music pieces are typically longer and more complex, so the mood will change as the piece goes on. 

Here are some examples of moods you may find in music. 

Sadness

This is one of the most common moods conveyed by music. 

Sad feeling music is usually minor, slow, low in pitch, and quiet with potential swells. 

I think it’s critical people listen to sad music on occasion, especially kids. 

Listening to sad songs allows us a safe space to engage with those feelings, which is important for mental health when we go through hard times.

Happy

Optimism, joy, ecstasy. 

All these types of happiness may be shown through music. 

Happy songs are typically major, medium tempo, high in pitch, and medium to loud in dynamics. 

Of course, changes in these specific elements may indicate different moods and types of happiness. 

A quiet to loud gradual crescendo may indicate a feeling of resolute optimism, while pairing swells of low to high pitch and a slow tempo may indicate love in happiness.

Listening to happy music for a long time with best friends is a good time and improves your quality of life. 

Loneliness

Loneliness is similar to sadness in how it uses minor, slow tempo, low pitches, and quiet dynamics, but here we see how specific uses of these elements add to the mood. 

In a lonely piece, the lyrics may help indicate which type of sadness or negative mood. 

Or it may be shown through a sudden move from a happy to a sad mood, showing the happiness is now gone. 

The number and type of instruments being played may also demonstrate this. 

If you have a joyful chorus or section with a full band or orchestra followed by a single voice with minimal backing, this can also show loneliness. 

Listening to a music track like this can help get you through the tough days. 

Hopeful

The reverse of loneliness is hope. 

In a hopeful mood, we’ll see the transition from minor, low, and quiet to major, high, and a little louder. 

Both my stay slow in tempo, but it’s the switch in tension that shows the feeling. 

Of course, if there are lyrics, they do a lot to convey the mood too.

Fear

Fear is unique in how it’s used. 

It can be both fast tempo, minor, high pitch, and loud dynamics for terror and slow tempo, minor, low pitch, and quiet dynamics for creepiness and eerieness. 

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31 Songs Based On Emotions

If you’re looking for examples of mood and emotional reactions in music, I’ve got a quick list for you. 

In each of these, I’ll offer an example of a popular song and a classical piece. 

It’s tough to simply mood (which is complex) to emotions (which tend to be more straightforward), but this simple sorting will give you an idea of how the elements I talked about above are used in music. 

Sadness

Mad World is a melancholy song through and through. 

The song is minor and stays in this feeling for pretty much the entire song. 

It never really rises out of its quiet dynamics, and the melodies are low in pitch for the most part. 

Of course, it’s slow too, and the lyrics emphasize the feeling of sadness and hopelessness. 

Barber’s Adagio for Strings is an amazing example of mood in music. 

While most classical pieces don’t stay in one mood, this one does for a bit at first. 

The tempo and rhythmic motion are slow and gradual. Restrained is a word I’ve heard used many times for most of this piece. 

It starts in minor keys and low pitches. 

Over the course of the work, it grows and swells in all areas of music until its massive release of tension that’s made it one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written (not just my opinion). 

If you haven’t given it a listen, you need to. 

Other examples of sad mood songs: 

  • Landslide
  • The Boxer
  • Someone Like You

Happiness

There isn’t a song better suited to being happy than the Pharrell Williams song, Happy. 

Upbeat songs like this are major, fast, high in pitch, and medium-loud in dynamics. 

It’s perfect all-around for happiness and literally says the word a million times. 

Jupiter from The Planets by Gustav Holst is a great example of a happy mood in classical music. 

It’s even subtitled as the “bringer of jollity!” 

The music is fast, sweeping, major, and loud for the most part. 

It’s almost as if the planet is dancing around. 

Of course, being a classical piece, it doesn’t live in pure happiness the whole time. 

There’s a beautiful hymn section in the middle that seems to imply majesty and pride too. 

Other examples of happy mood songs: 

  • Let’s Go Crazy
  • I Got You (I Feel Good)
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Anger

Before He Cheats is a good mood example of anger in a song. 

The song is in minor, medium tempo, though the other two main mood elements differ as the song goes on. 

It starts with a low pitch in verse and moves into high pitches for the chorus. 

It also starts with more medium-soft dynamics before growing in the chorus. 

Both of these mirrors the feeling of smoldering anger rising into more rage (as the song describes a guy cheating and then his ex-girlfriend smashing his car). 

Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky is a great example of how classical music can be angry, too (and quite a bit scary). 

It’s minor, medium-slow, loud for the most part, and moves from low to high pitches. 

You’ve probably heard this song from the 1940’s Fantasia movie too. 

Other angry songs: 

  • Platypus (I Hate You)
  • Gives You Hell
  • Rolling In The Deep

Love

I have to throw in Your Song by Elton John as my example of love in music. 

It’s my wife and I’s first dance song, after all! 

But it really does fit our description of love in musical elements: 

  • Slow tempo
  • Major tonality
  • Soft to medium dynamic
  • Low to high pitch

Plus, the lyrics are amazing! 

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture introduced us to one of the most iconic love themes out there. 

It checks all the boxes with its major tonality, slow tempo, medium dynamics, and pitch. 

Oh, the pitch of the melody. It features a moving sweep of low to high that just perfectly encapsulates the feeling of Remeo looking at his beloved for the first time. 

Love, on its own, is one of the most covered (if not the most covered mood) in music of all time. 

A few other love songs: 

  • Can’t Help Falling In Love
  • Unchained Melody
  • Something

Hope

Fix You by Coldplay is an awesome song, and it shows how hope in music works perfectly. 

Much of the verses use minor chords. 

The tempo is slow, and the dynamic is quiet. 

Yes, the pitches are high, but they move in a simple descending motion. 

When we get to the chorus, the song changes its mood. 

It uses mostly major chords, and the dynamics swell. 

The lyrics also mirror this change. 

The opening line in the darker mood is “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed.” 

Pretty sad.

The chorus opens with “Lights will guide you home.”

Sounds hopeful and brighter to me. 

All of Bach’s Cello Suites are amazing, but the Prelude of No. 2, in particular, is quite hopeful. 

The slow yet rising melody is beautiful, and Yo-Yo Ma’s performance is, as expected, angelic. 

Other hopeful moods in music: 

  • Lean On Me
  • Fight Song
  • Eye Of The Tiger 

Lonely

All By Myself is the quintessential lonely song. 

Its minor, slow, soaring in melody, with broad dynamic contrast. 

Brahms’ music is well-known for its depth of emotional range and ability to invoke emotional responses. 

The 3rd movement of his Symphony No. 3 is perfect for this type of mood. 

Other lonely songs in music: 

  • You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When We Go
  • Need You Now
  • Storm

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Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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