I’ve liked this song since I first heard it last year some time.
Now I think I know why this resonates with me and millions of others.
You know the feeling. It’s one like this: “Your hair’s standing up on end, shivers going down your spine, a lump coming into your throat, even tears running down your eyes,” says John Sloboda, a professor of music psychology at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Sloboda has studied physical reactions to music and found that one musical ornament in particular triggers a strong emotional reaction.
It’s called an appoggiatura, from the Italian word “to lean.” And while it’s tough to define, it’s not unlike a grace note. It’s sometimes dissonant and resolves into a main note. The Wall Street Journal, which wrote about the appoggiaturas in Adele’s song, says it can be easily heard when Adele sings the word “you” in the chorus.
According to Sloboda, that little vocal dip in there on the word “you” — that’s the key to triggering an emotional response in a listener.
“Our brains are wired to pick up the music that we expect,” says Sloboda. So when we’re listening to music, our brain is constantly trying to guess what comes next. “And generally music is consonant rather than dissonant, so we expect a nice chord. So when that chord is not quite what we expect, it gives you a little bit of an emotional frisson, because it’s strange and unexpected.”