The Science Of Djing- Music Chills and Pop Cycles

Ever wondered why you get chills when listening to music? Perhaps you might have  suspected cycles of pop music seem to follow economic cycles. Well, writer Yale Fox has an entire blog dedicated to studying the “science of nightlife culture” called Darwin Vs The Machine that has looked at both subjects. In today’s article he goes into the chill theory and why popular music may pick up in pace as the economy slows down.

Got the Chills?

by Yale Fox

Have you ever listened to a song that’s given you shivers? The pleasant feeling of chills running up your spine are actually called Frissons. What is it about music that induces this feeling? I listened to this lecture by Dr. David Huron that discussed his theory behind it.

Biologically, chills are called piloerection. They are characterized by a pleasurable, cold sensation which sometimes produces a shudder. Chills are something we can normally experience based on certain stimuli.  At the core, these chills exhibit themselves as a result of surprise. It is the failure for the organism to predict their environment and what is going to happen next. The neurotransmitters released during this type of response are catecholamines; epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine. This brief and pleasurable scare is equivalent to the reason we enjoy rollercoasters and watch horror films.

Here are some other examples of when we experience these frissons.

  • Stepping in to a warm bathtub

This is a classic example of the organism not being able to predict their environment. The body feels a sudden change in temperature and reacts by eliciting the fight or flight response.

  • Nails on a chalkboard, or a loud scream

It comes as a surprise again, and is usually a sign of warning or help from another member of our species. Whether running to help, or running for safety it’s an indication that something unexpected is occurring in the environment.


A large part of music that we enjoy is the balance between predictability and unpredictability. This is probably a good way to think about track selection for your DJ sets, trying to put yourself somewhere in between predictable and unpredictable place. Perhaps adding an interesting effect or unique twist on a familiar track would be enough to induce that wonderful chill we associate with a great musical moment.

Personally, the only music that really gives me chills is lyrically based. More specifically, Punchlines and complex verses. This still fits the theory, as usually these lines are totally witty and unexpected. There’s no way of really predicting the verse before you hear it. The fact that it is a heightened emotional response means it likely becomes imprinted for future reference. Additionally, if I know the words to the song- I find I don’t get chills when I hear it again.

Virtually impossible to conduct a lab, different people are surprised at different times. I think the best thing to do is put this up to open debate. If readers could post their comments and suggestions- or specific songs and points in the song where they experienced chills.


I took a database of every song that has ever touched ground on the billboard top 100 charts since 1955-2009. Songs were analyzed and sorted in terms of two important characteristics; (i) tempo and (ii) modality. Tempo is measured in beats-per-minute, and is the general speed of the song. Modality or mode refers to whether or not the song is in a Major or Minor key. Major keys sound happy, and Minor keys sound sad- even an untrained ear is able to easily detect this.

I have graphed what I believe to be two of the most emotional aspects of music, with something that affects the emotions of countless individuals- the stock market. The results are listed below, and they were astounding.

check out the full article on the relationship of the DOW and Music trends over at Yale’s blog, Darwin VS the Machine

Darwin Vs MachineFoxmusicScienceYale
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  • Dj Fur

    It’s personal for everyone but I notice the interplay of the melody as it relates to the chords or bassline.  Or even the slight nuance of a vocal that contains deep emotion.  I’m thinking Sade, Portishead, U2, NIN, Amy Winehouse, Frank Sinatra… Don’t get me wrong, I love bangin’ Umek and Adam Beyer tracks but for Frissons (interesting term) it has to do with the tonal “setup”.  Like if you play a minor 7th chord right before a diminished chord, your ear perceives it differently within that context as opposed to the reverse order.  Does this make sense?  I learned how to play “Us & Them” by Pink Floyd on piano and my favorite part to play is that 3rd chord that takes it from floaty to moody.  The chord on its own is deep but played right after the previous chord, it becomes a song.  I like how everyone is mentioning what does it for them because it’s so varied!  Cheers…  Jesse P


    mixed hard style with soft style and make some unobvious blends … that make chills on dancefloor 😀

  • J-Bone

    Awesome photo.

  • Polo

    Here’s my opinion on that :

    For me, the music that gives me chill everytime since I first listened to it, is the Live-album “Alive 2007” (or for that matter, ’97 too) by Daft Punk. I think, NEVER, have I been able to listen to an album/song for that long and that much repeatedly, without showing any signs of boredom. Even I don’t know how I do it. I mean it beats the law of physics.

    I know there is something truly magic in their set, whether it’s predictability or unpredictiblity, like that part where Aurora Rock smoothes in and then rocks hard again, or that Rock’N’Roll playing in the background of “Human After All” which gives the chill-sensation to it. Anyways, Daft Punk is my drug and I can have a taste at it, anytime, anywhere.

  • And what of it?

    Who gives a shit?

  • JackAstro

    Yale Fox,

    You have an interesting hypothesis, and I suspect you are correct. But there are some problems with you math.

    First, the Dow is broadly monotonic and will correlate with anything else that is broadly monotonic.

    Second, the Dow is heteroskedastic, so your R is sporious.

    Try running your analysis again with the log of the percent change in the Dow. [delta(D(n)/D(n-1)]

    Even better if you use a broader measure of the economy like the Russel 2000 or real GDP.

  • inlimbo

    Finally, i know my personal experience of this piloerection from music does not make me unusual. I get chills from certain mixes if there is a strong contrast between the songs or they layer perfectly. But nobody gives me more chills than M83! check em out

  • Dj JohnDaTech

    Old school house and techno music gave me the chills. I always thought that it was weird, but it would put into a trance state of mind. I remember clubbing/raving in the early 90’s to hardcore techno music drug free, while other club kids and ravers were getting high to get in tune with the music. There was a term we used back then that you had to be “headstrong” to understand this music.

    Two of the most recent lyrical songs that has given me the chills have been “The Way She Loves Me” By Ron Hall & The MuthaFunks (Dimitry of Paris Old School Version) and “Shout Praises by Spiritual Blessings (Compressor Mix). Peace!

  • StrangeMatter

    It’s not surprise that gets me. It’s anticipation. Which is why I play trance. I always get that rush on a massive tune before the beat drops. An example of that is RAM – RAMsterdam (Jorn van Deynhoven Remix). Gives me goosebumps every time!

  • djproben

    The Dow Jones stuff is an interesting correlation but a LOT more research needs to be done to reach the conclusions he reaches. What other factors are happening historically in the time periods when the Dow is up or down? And while the stock market is one indicator of economic health, it’s far from the only one. And, of course, the people that are hit the hardest from fluctuations in the Dow and who notice it most immediately are the same people who previous theories held were manipulating the charts to begin with — wealthy corporate investor types. It’s a stretch to say that the charts show how music fans deal with economic changes (they may not even be perceiving these changes directly). Very interesting stuff, I would just caution against concluding too much from it.

  • Jason Hazardous

    @EanGolden. I agree that big tempo switches are great sometimes if done correctly by intro’ing a new mood.
    For Example, currently playing Top 40 records and then swithching to classic Hip Hop Records that are not necessarily 120 BPM’s or more.
    I think that the current economy and the sound of records have to do with the “play it safe and make a radio record” factor. The pressure comes down from the labels and doesn’t really have to do with the chills as much as we think.

  • Brownie

    Before I read any of this article, I just wanted to say thats an awesome photo!


    Ever heard of the 4 chords? All pop songs pretty much have the 4 chord structure. You tube it. There’s a funny comedian trio that does a medley of all songs kinda. If you can sing “what if god was one of us” ontop of anything it’s the same chords,etc. You can use them in any progression also.

    It’s witchcraft just so ya know…Designed by the man to vibrate your lower chakra. It’s house music and electronica that is FREE still. Retire your pop music and stop makin girls wanna hump your leg. It’s all SEX and top 40 has got to go. I play Jesse Rose, REKIDS,Switch and good music. It’s the top 40/hip hop stuff that will ruin your brain and life. I can attest to this. It’s like a drug…You just can’t get enough top 40 or stop talking about it right? Katy Perry? It’s weak ass music. Why does evey DJ round here want to sound like the other 4 top 40 jocks? All they have are 30 songs to play at a given time. I am lucky enough to be skilled in real dance music(house,jazz,breaks,funk,electronica) and can still turn on my radio and 10 minutes can be updated on what’s hot on the airwaves. There’s no work to it to be mobile/top 40 is you ask me. It’s the DJ’s who break the mold and aren’t scared to tell the chicks no on a request for crap when your rockin the finest DANCE right then for them.

    There is some info what FREQS effect the body. Hip hop is 666 of course(low). There are 7 chakras and top 40 doesn’t touch any near the crown. Your brain! It’s a known fact listening to lollipop will make you dumber. I can feel it when I listen to it. You want to screw and quit your job. It’s a prefect plan for the man to get into your head. With our favorite medium… MUSIC. But, we’ve lost our way…There is a WAR going on for your soul and they are using FREQS man! I’m also an ex soldier used for black ops w/ the US ARMY. It’s psy ops all the way. The video of CA gurlz should be enough for you to turn it off and go outside. Just a rant…Thanks DJTT!

  • Alex

    I find its more complex harmonies/chords that give me the chills. Think the first part of day dream in blue – imonster up until the sweep.
    As soon as I read the first part of this article I thought of that song!

  • dj freshfluke

    hmmm… i definitely dont get the chills from the verses… also not every song gives me everytime goose bumps. so to me it’s more the magic of the moment and the way the chords flow. there are definitely mathematics behind how chords following certain chords can raise the tension or release it.

    in the article, getting goose bumps from a subtle touch from someone you’re about to fall in love with isnt covered, and this is pretty much what i feel when i’m “doin it doin it doin it well” on the decks… 🙂

  • 7evel7

    I agree that the unexpected is what gives me the goose bumps. When the drop comes off-beat(Who doesn’t remember the first time they heard ‘Dooms Night Timo Maas Remix Azzido Da Bass’?) or a pause lasts a bit longer than you expect ie: that killer first vocal sample on ‘Radio Slave – Grindhouse (Dubfire Terror Planet Remix)’. I can’t explain why I get goose bumps when I’m not surprised, however. I’ve heard Pavarotti sing Nessun Dorma hundreds of times & it raises my flesh every time. Sheer beauty, perhaps?

  • sebastiannz

    [quote comment=”39294″]
    i was playing in the underground scene in israel for 6 years and would like to add that life in such a shitty country defnetley increased the bpm…(wars,wars,wars,conflicts,economy,religion – you name it)
    you cant get the israeli underground crowd moving if its less then 145bpm.
    i increase the bpm of my set to 147bpm !!! it works great..
    people have alot of energy to release hence the high bpm…(and volume).
    hmm that is pretty interesting. i noticed some of the prog producers from israel (shmuel flash) are REALLY dark and i often wondered if that was due to the bad political situation there and war etc.

    i come from NZ which is pretty much the opposite extreme, we are known as hobbitland because we are basically isolated from everything. the trend isn’t as clear though, reggae and deep house, and other slow bpm aren’t amazingly popular. dub step and dnb, which are reasonably fast are actually more popular. go figure…

  • luis garcia

    hi im luis garcia aka dj crossfade i have a rane ttm 56 and a rme rpm do u know of a way to make them one

    mod my ttm 56 to have my rme rpm inside along with adding a midi joystick or buttons on my mixer to select tracks

  • Brent Silby

    I often experience this chill effect when I am listening to a song with a specific predictable bassline, which suddenly changes to a different progression. It’s like I get used to the bassline and chord progression, then the change is a surprise which triggers the effect.

    I still experience the effect listening to the tune again. I think part of it is the fact that I know my favorite bit is coming up, so there’s an anticipation there. The anticipation builds up until it finally comes, and it’s then a release of pleasure.

    I wonder if sex has anything to do with musical pleasure. Just a thought…

  • Anonymous

    old school analog synth leads… = perfect

  • Syntonic

    One thing i should add is the chills for me happens on different scenarios, it could be the beat, the cords, how music sounds in terms of EQ and loudness, for example the bass in the song “Before Today” by Everything but the girl is a perfect example.
    Also i think the effect is maximized depending of the visuals being used, and a perfect example of this would be a Chemical Brothers’ concert, the audio visual they use are amazing, combined with beat, the loudness, the lightning…omg!
    I think this theory applies to movies as well. when you see an important scene where the music is important part of it, it really gets you.

  • Jes.C

    I get the chills when I play Depeche Mode Personal Jesus OG version with the guitar pick intro and the per-reverb “REACH OUT AND TOUCH FAITH” and the crowd usually goes nuts and put their hands in the air.

  • Seb

    In White Rooms by Booka Shade always gives me goosebumps.
    Somewhere near the end when the last build up/climax gets to its highest point. 🙂

  • Syntonic

    Excellent article!

    However I don’t know if Billboard is a good source to compare to, Usually only commercial music make it to those lists..

  • DJ Master P

    Yale Fox should do an article analyzing “Dance Floor Boners.”
    Quote end

    ROTFLMAO nuff said

  • Lovebump

    Great post. I seem to get the chills to chords or a melody line, I’ve never noticed it with lyrics but I’ll be watching out. My mates used to laugh when I called a tune a “gooser” (it gives me goosebumps/gooseflesh) but I’m obviously not alone.

    What I’ve found interesting is that some people who aren’t “into” music perhaps as much as DJ’s don’t seem to get this phenomenon.

    The “goosers” do it to me every time, Kinetic by Golden Girls (an old tune but still a classic) is a great example.

    I always try to be a bit edgy in my sets, for me there is nothing worse than 1hr of continuous style. I’ll probably get shot down for saying this but one of the worse DJ’s I saw for this was Armin Van Buuren playing here in SoCal.

    No edge, all the tunes the same style… not a gooser or chill inducing moment was had, majorly disappointed. Maybe it was just me…


  • Fow-T

    I need the article-Picture in HD for Wallpaper!!!

  • celtic dj

    great article,,,for me i use this knowledge to select the tunes for the playlist.
    i go through so much music in many different genres that i only keep the tunes that give me the ‘chill’ … the good old ‘medical weed’ definitely helps

    i was playing in the underground scene in israel for 6 years and would like to add that life in such a shitty country defnetley increased the bpm…(wars,wars,wars,conflicts,economy,religion – you name it)
    you cant get the israeli underground crowd moving if its less then 145bpm.
    i increase the bpm of my set to 147bpm !!! it works great..
    people have alot of energy to release hence the high bpm…(and volume).
    own personal tip :
    using the chain effect rack to create a ‘chill’.
    each tune usualy has break in the middle of it (in the area of 05:00 minutes) ,as you are a digital dj u can see all this on the waveform …in psy trance this breaks usually finish with a very energtic uplifting rythem and melody so raising the dry/wet knob when the gator ( set to 1/4) and flanger (knob is on ‘zero’ position)creates an amazing chill plus its helping the crowd ‘feel’ when the end of the break is due…
    i do this at least 3 times in a 3 hours set…(plus other combinations…).
    this subject has so much to it…
    thanks alot djtt..

  • djpbe

    So dubstep is the economy’s fault. Makes sense to me.

  • Ean Golden

    Did no one else even notice the 2nd half of the article and relationship between BPM and the economy? I have dj’d through 2 boom and bust periods in my career and noticed a relationship but it was very cool to actually see data that backs up my personal experience.
    @John McGrory

    There really is a point to this kind of an article. If you assume that chills are a result of “magic” then how will you proactively create those situations? By using magic? By understanding that they come from something un-expected, you can then use this knowledge to create more un-expected moments.
    Personally I love doing big Tempo switches- this unexpected movements, if well timed, can have a great impact on the mood and sometimes create some chills.

  • Anonymous

    ya idk about the whole dow and music…. the article first talks about the “chills” then goes into the type of tempo corilates with the dow….

    idk i get the chills from hearing music associated to the killer out of my mind times i had …. doing drugs(dont do drugs)when i was younger. i hear a song it give me a flashback or feel of that one night or with that one girl then i get chills.

    songs that dont have any association with this still happens but i thing it has to do with the overall sound and feel are similar to the song associated. i have alot of songs that do that lawl

  • Phil Morse

    Interesting article. For me too, it is subtle chord changes that do it – normally an unexpected minor chord in something. Tomcraft was good at those, and Oakenfold too. Blimey, anyone for a trance reminisce?

    D-Jam, I can speak for the UK in the early 90s when life from many was really, really sh*t. We all treated each other with (often justified) extreme caution until rave culture wrapped us all in warm smiliness. There was a real need for an underground – the kids have it too easy nowadays. 😉

    “Yale Fox should do an article analyzing “Dance Floor Boners.” lol. Funniest thing I’ve read all day.

  • D-Jam

    One thing I’ve noticed in the past (but it hasn’t seemingly happened this time) is when the economy is down, rave culture goes on the up. I remember back in the early 90s and even post dotcom crash that it seemed more raves were happening, and the music was less “pop” and more “underground”.

    This time though it doesn’t seem to be happening, unless I’m just not looking at the slower tempo music and other sounds like dubstep.

  • Yale Fox

    Agreed, I have a theory regarding causation from an evolutionary standpoint that I will be posting in a week.

  • Epiphenomenon

    interesting, but correlation does not imply causation.

  • Yale Fox

    I’m really happy to see some of the comments here. For those that read the full article, this type of a music/psyc lab isn’t really possible to conduct in a setting that could adequately control for variables. I’m going to revise the previous theory and try to take in to account a larger sample size of experiences. Please continue to post!

  • maytal

    for me its lyrics, particulary soulfull/heartfelt lyrics. K’naan gets me all the time, i’ve listened to The Dusty Foot Philsopher and Troubador seemingly thousands of times and i’m still surprised both lyrically and emotionally every time. Its the same with Sublime, after all these years i can still go back to those records and gets chills. Flogging Molly also gets me when the pan flute/ fiddle harmonizes with the lyrics. crazy feeling that i cant really explain

  • Bucky

    Yale Fox should do an article analyzing “Dance Floor Boners.”

  • Porkie


    This is a funny thing cause yesterday I got the chills from a song on the radio:

    Club can’t handle me right now- Flo Rida

    I think theres a vivid association along with the sounds.

    I am studying to be a healer. Reiki+Massage Therapy.

    I have read about cymatics and practise visualization techniques on a regular basis and I feel like sharing my opinion about this:

    When I hear the start of the song I can see myself standing in the club with a sweat on. My friends are all around me with their sweat on. The lights are beaming in the face and changing. You can smell the club. Your pretty much in the club. Then the Lyrics kick in. “You know I know how…”

    That little intro acts almost as a mediation and it vibrates through your body in such a peaceful manner that you almost connect with your higher self for a minute. There is much confidence behind the phrase “you know I know how” and that sparks the energy. Your emotionally and physically connected to the moment. Your able to turn off the Left brain and left the Right brain flow.. Nirvana pretty well. Thats the chill of energy that you feel.

    Once you’ve learned the lyrics it gets put into a more past tense to the brain so when the song comes on you go back to the memory of it when you hear it rather then experiencing it in the current tense.

    This leads me to think that I still get chills when I hear this Flo Rida tune because I am still getting the words wrong so I havent actually put the song into the past tense of my memory.

    The first time in a long time I feel like I should add something to an internet blog. Its a good feeling. So you can take it or leave it up to you.

    I apologize for any grammatical errors I may have commited


  • calvin01

    ^^dj wands now for sale in the shop people;)personally i like to throw icecubes at punters whilst the repeat of the new now cd plays over and over.this site tells a fairly new bloke like me to not just throw tracks together but think about what im doing.thumbs up.

  • Chris

    The r-squared value is 0.54 which isn’t high, but if you follow the link to his blog the correlations are actually -0.675 and 0.792, respectively- which are both extremely high for a study like this.

  • John McGrory

    WOW, what a boring and pointless article!

    To me there is absolutely no need to explain and research things like this. It almost cheapens the experience…

    A chill will normally be an experience elicited by a memory evoked by an old tune, a shared experience on a dancefloor at just the right time, or the sheer ability of the DJ who is in total command of his dancefloor.

    There is no requirement for this to be explained by science. If you want to know how to do this as a DJ read either Last Night A DJ Saved My Life or How To DJ (Properly) – The Art And Science of Playing Records.

    I just like to put it all down to magic….

  • D-Vine

    Funny to read such a story, though an explained variance of .54 isn’t high (sill 46% can be explained by other factors).

  • sebastiannz

    ” Chills are something we can normally experience based on certain stimuli. At the core, these chills exhibit themselves as a result of surprise. It is the failure for the organism to predict their environment and what is going to happen next. ”
    i usually get a nice chill when i mix tracks together that go really well (usually because they are in key or have compatible rhythms). but that isn’t really a surprise, because i tend to expect they will go well. usually if i repeat the mix i’ll still get a nice chill… go figure 🙂

    also alcohol tends to increase my chill ratio … that should be calculated into his experiments somehow.

  • Max One

    I find that drugs normally give the best “chills”.

    joke *don’t do drugs kids*

  • Lysgaard

    that’s funny, the lyrics never give me the chills, but chords do.
    And I think it would make sense to elaborate a bit at the end of the article about the graph, instead of just leaving it hanging like that… But still good.

  • Chris Penn

    I also respond with chills only to lyrics.

    However it feels to me like the entire atmosphere induces the chill, not just a surprise track or segment.
    It feels like the best tracks draw your body into the mathematical, if not literal “story” of the track, and you respond physically at the high point of the track.

    Solid and interesting article.

  • luke

    In the words of the Swedish House Mafia – Goosebumps Never Lie