Using music[al] knowledge to represent expressions of emotions

Stewart C. Alexander, David Kirkland Garner, Matthew Somoroff, David J. Gramling, Sally A. Norton, Robert Gramling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objective: Being able to identify expressions of emotion is crucial to effective clinical communication research. However, traditional linguistic coding systems often cannot represent emotions that are expressed nonlexically or phonologically (i.e., not through words themselves but through vocal pitch, speed/rhythm/tempo, and volume). Methods: Using audio recording of a palliative care consultation in the natural hospital setting, two experienced music scholars employed Western musical notation, as well as the graphic realization of a digital audio program (Piano roll visualization), to visually represent the sonic features of conversation where a patient has an emotional "choke" moment. Results: Western musical notation showed the ways that changes in pitch and rate correspond to the patient's emotion: rising sharply in intensity before slowly fading away. Piano roll visualization is a helpful supplement. Conclusions: Using musical notation to illustrate palliative care conversations in the hospital setting can render visible for analysis several aspects of emotional expression that researchers otherwise experience as intuitive or subjective. Various forms and formats of musical notation techniques and sonic visualization technologies should be considered as fruitful and complementary alternatives to traditional coding tools in clinical communications research. Practice implications: Musical notation offers opportunity for both researchers and learners to "see" how communication evolves in clinical encounters, particularly where the lexical and phonological features of interpersonal communication are concordant and discordant with one another.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1339-1345
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015


  • Emotions
  • Empathic Opportunities
  • Music
  • Music notation
  • Patient-provider communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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