Music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Michaeleen Doucleff looks at the how Grammy Award winner Adele seems to elicit “tears and chills” with her ballad ‘Someone Like You'. He finds from a conversation with Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, that music is most likely to tingle the spine, in short, when it includes surprises in volume, timbre and harmonic pattern:

“Someone Like You” is a textbook example. “The song begins with a soft, repetitive pattern,” said Dr. Guhn, while Adele keeps the notes within a narrow frequency range. The lyrics are wistful but restrained: “I heard that you're settled down, that you found a girl and you're married now.” This all sets up a sentimental and melancholy mood.

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