Cove’s Journal App Lets You Process Your Emotions With Music
Music, perhaps more than any other art form, is a reliable emotional barometer. How we feel tends to affect not only the music we choose to listen to, but the music we create. That’s why, when you’re feeling down, turning on a minor-keyed song is comforting—you get the sense that the songwriter was wading through a similar emotional experience.
It turns out emotions are complex (surprise!), and sometimes words just can’t do justice in expressing them. This is especially true if you’re in your teens, a period in life when verbally communicating anything, let alone complicated feelings like grief, disappointment, or anger, is practically impossible. “For kids, the vocabulary for emotions can be limited,” says Ivor Williams, a co-founder of Humane Engineering.
Williams and his co-founder at Humane Engineering, Alex Rothera, have been looking at whether technology can help adolescents express—and ultimately cope—with complex emotions. Their new app Cove is a journaling app that upends what you’d expect from a journaling app. Instead of users relying on words to describe how they’re feeling, they capture their mood by creating instrumental music that can be saved or shared. The goal is to replace the intangibility of grief, or happiness, or any emotion for that matter, with something you can see and hear.
Caption: Cove is journaling app that lets you make music to express how you’re feeling. Cove
Caption: You can make instrumental songs that match your mood by dropping “stones” into a river. Cove
Cove evolved from Flutter, an app we wrote about earlier this year that lets adolescents make music as a way to deal with grief. Both apps stemmed from Williams and Rothera’s personal experiences with loss and the realization that not many young people (nor adults, for that matter) are emotionally equipped to deal with the heavy, formless feelings that accompany bereavement. “In some ways I think we’ve lost this ability to externalize our feelings about these things that happen to us,” says Williams.
Whereas Flutter relied on wind as a metaphor for grief, Cove transforms emotions into a watery scene that encourages users to make melodies by dropping “stones” into a flowing river. “You’re dropping stones in water, as it were, to create your own personal cove—your own private spaces,” Williams explains.
The app lets you choose from six different emotions—playful, calm, longing, clouded, gentle, struggling—which set the musical tone of your song. Playful leans on cheery major chords while longing and struggling are rooted in minor tones. To make a melody, you tap on the screen to drop big stones, which elicit chords, and small stones, which are more like single notes. As the scrubber, in the form of a water line, passes over these stones, they play a sound, almost like pins plucking the teeth on a music box. You can add filters, increase or decrease rhythm, and adjust the volume on each sound layer. As Williams explains, “It is a suggestive foundation to bridge the link between an emotion and a sound, a gentle nudge for the user to understand how music can change easily between more upbeat or downbeat.”
Heather Servaty-Seib, a counseling psychologist and professor at Purdue University who focuses on adolescents who have lost a parent, says youths often aren’t psychologically equipped to process emotions verbally. She explains that adolescents tend to be “instrumental” grievers who rely on actions or internal cognition to deal with what they’re feeling. Oftentimes they’re non-verbal simply because they haven’t developed the emotional toolkit to express themselves with words. The act of making music, then, is a way for them to have some semblance of control over the situation when words are inaccessible. “Music allows people to get below what they might be consciously aware of,” she says.
Williams and Rothera are quick to say that while Cove was born out of needing a tool to help youth deal with loss, it’s about more than just bereavement. “As we spoke to more people, and as people started reaching out to us, we understood that Cove could be used for more than expressing grief, as Flutter was designed for,” Rothera says. “Bereavement affects millions of people every year, but we wanted to make something that would help de-stigmatize emotional health generally.” And that’s the beauty of an app like Cove. While it might not be cool to talk about your feelings, by creating something evocative and beautiful the app almost tricks you into thinking about them.