19. January 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: News

Why do tunes in a major key, such as Singin’ in the Rain, sound cheerful, while those in minor keys – Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, say – sound gloomy and depressing?

The answer – in part – seems to be that the patterns of pitches in major keys mirror those of excited speech, whereas minor keys parallel subdued speech. That suggests that language shaped our musical expression of emotion.

Several factors affect music’s sentimental influence, and some are common sense: a fast, loud, jumpy rhythm sounds happy because it reflects the way an excited person behaves, and slow, quiet music with a regular beat mimics a mournful emotional state.


Doesn’t change much for me. Some music makes me sad. Some makes me happy. So sometimes I listen to the sad stuff because I’m sad and feel like wallowing. And sometimes I don’t. That is all.

But I’m glad scientists have figured this out. Now they can move on to something much more important: creating the “Everlasting Oboe Reed”, known as EOR — pronounced Eeyore (American pronunciation, that is — … and yes, I know it’ll never happen. Sigh.

1 Comment

  1. I wonder how the music-as-speech-allegory plays into other cultural music styles?

    I don’t comprehend the structure of classical Chinese music, but then, I don’t grasp the inflections of Asian languages either.