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Playing with when things happen

One of the things about music, in almost any style, is that we have expectations of different sections of the song happening in a certain order.
A young blonde woman looking surprised and happy against a pink background
© Griffith University

One of the things about music, in almost any style, is that we have expectations about different sections of the song happening in a certain order.

In almost every pop song, the expectation is that, before too long, there’ll be a chorus section of the song, the bit when the lead singer tends to repeat the title of the song.

In contrast, in classical music, there are different expectations about what will follow; for example, there’s the ‘sonata form’, in which musically there is an introduction, an exposition, a development, a recapitulation, and a coda.

The Drop

In the last few years, there’s been a craze in dance music about ‘the drop’. Dance music DJs and producers will deliberately leave the bass sound out of the mix, in order to build up anticipation for when the bass will ‘drop,’ meaning it will finally be heard in the song.

The reason that dance music producers do this is because the crowd are expecting the drop, but don’t know when exactly it will happen. So when it does finally happen, it will give a crowd (or at least one that knows about these expectations in dance music) an enjoyable rush of dopamine.

The following video by the comedy group ‘The Lonely Island’ illustrates the expectations behind the power of ‘the drop’ in dance music quite graphically (a warning that it does so in a way that some might find vulgar, with literal exploding heads etc).

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

The ‘drop’ in a dance music piece is a very obvious example of the role anticipation and expectation play in the way we emotionally respond to music (the ways that it feels good). The Lonely Island make this even more obvious by the way they exploit the bass dropping for comedic purposes.

But it’s also a really good illustration of something that happens all the time when we listen to music:

  • we have expectations about when things will happen in music, and
  • we’re listening to music by composers who understand our expectations and play with them, cater to them, and exploit them.

It also explains why a genre of music you like doesn’t become boring. We know unconsciously what is meant to happen, but we don’t know exactly when it will happen.

Your task

Consider the following two questions:

Why do you think this amusing video parodying dance music is seen as funny by many people, considering what you’ve learned so far in Week 2 of the course?

What’s a part of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen that you really look forward to when you listen to it? How do you feel when you reach that part of the song?

Use the comments link below to share your thoughts with us.


Huron, D. (2006). Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

© Griffith University
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Music Psychology: Why Does "Bohemian Rhapsody" Feel so Good?

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