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I am interested to start making some songs that are very relaxing, like the one posted above.

The song above is indeed one of the most relaxing songs in the world. But how? What elements in the song make it particularly relaxing? I noticed the chords as they transitioned smoothly with the piano playing in the background. I also noticed the chord progressions, and how different they were.

What is the theory behind relaxing music? How do the chord progressions, instruments, etc. work in relaxing music?

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    Please do not close this; it is not opinion-based. Music is all about eliciting certain psychological reactions, and this case is no different. Just look at @prouvaire's answer; there is nothing subjective about it. – Lee White Aug 1 '14 at 9:37
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To me, the tempo of the music is the primary factor in what makes a piece of music relaxing. In the video above, the bpm hovers around 55-60 which makes it ideal for synchonisation to your brainwaves/ resting heart rate. (source)

While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat. It is important that the song is eight minutes long because it takes about five minutes for this process, known as entrainment, to occur. The fall in heart rate also leads to a fall in blood pressure.

Basically your video goes on for almost an hour, which is plenty of time for your body to slow down to match the music.

There is no repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next. Instead, there are random chimes, which helps to induce a deeper sense of relaxation. The final element is the low, whooshing sounds and hums that are like buddhist chants. High tones stimulate but these low tones put you in a trance-like state.

The video above is very atonal and there's a constant low organ-like tone that probably contributes to relaxing the listener.

There's a very questionable "academy" (homeopathy, basically) called British Academy of Sound Therapy which you can read more about. Google doesn't reveal too many of their techniques, but apparently there are lots of people dedicated to figuring out relaxing sounds.

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  • Actually, some parts do kind-of repeat. Good answer though. – user8886 Jul 31 '14 at 0:51
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    It's like the sweeping pads represent the inhaling and exhaling of relaxed breathing, too. – Lee Kowalkowski Jul 31 '14 at 8:50
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I listened to the piece yesterday with an analytic ear; this brain activity prevented the piece putting me to sleep. My wife remarked that it was very hypnotic and indeed she fell asleep listening.

The factors which I see contributing to this hypnotic ability are

  1. A very dense sonority (the synth pad) which is akin to a warm blanket enveloping one
  2. A fragmentary melody heard in the background (the piano) which is like the thread of a dreams: glimpsed in the distance but not leading anywhere and not making much sense
  3. A very slow rate of harmonic change - as one answer commmented, consonant with the human pulse
  4. A very repetitive harmony: mainly ii-V. There are a few gratuitous sevenths (I7 and IV7) which make things slightly interesting or even jarring. The amount of time spent on what I would consider to be the I chord is very little, thus giving the feeling that the piece is somehow suspended in space (this may be a pun on my part as there are a few suspended chords).
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Those warm, reedy synth pads seem to contribute a great deal. Simpler, smoother waveforms, and additive synthesis would seem to be good directions for a very soft tone.

Pure sine waves make a nice tone for a soft melody, but adding octaves and other harmonies leads to weird phasing effects that can be more alarming.

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Few real key changes - are there any ? I couldn't listen all the way through and stay awake.

Quite a few accidentals, so it's not completely predictable.

Virtually never resolves, seem to be places where you'd expect the root note and major chord, and the root note is just not played.

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    good point about not resolving, but given that there isn't really a key for this, technically it's impossible to have a tonic. – prouvaire Jul 31 '14 at 21:22

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