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dropzone
02-02-2001, 03:47 PM
And not just D Minor, the saddest of all keys.

kpm
02-02-2001, 04:32 PM
Don't know why they are sad. But I heard that a classical radio station once told people not to play anything in a minor key during fundraising - they thought it would depress people and lead to lower donations.

casdave
02-02-2001, 04:42 PM
WAG I think it will have something to do with the way the brain interprets sound.

As a side issue, it is known that sounds in nature tend to generate odd numbered harmonics and it is known that amplifiers using valves sound 'warmer' than transistors.

Valves produce some distortion but it is always in odd harmonics but transistors produce even harmonics.(IIRC odd harmonics can be combined to produce triangle waves and even harmonics combine to produce squarewaves)

In terms of measurement valve amps do not perform as well as good quality transistor amps but they sound better.
One use of distortion which demonstrates this very well is in the electric guitar.

The electric guitar when played within the limits of the electronic amplifying equipment it is a fairly insipid instrument but when you crank everything up and overdrive it all it sounds much more interesting.
Turns out that valve amp distortion sounds better to the human ear and this has been put down to it producing a more natural distortion, as in harmonics found in nature, whereas transistors sound coarser, more hard edged and colder.

This is so well recognised that you can buy yourself a guitar pre-amp that uses valves just to generate this effect.

This is off the point somewhat but it does show that there is far more to musical processing within the brain than is obvious from the spec sheets that amp manufacturers put out.

dropzone
02-03-2001, 11:06 PM
Originally posted by casdave
In terms of measurement valve amps do not perform as well as good quality transistor amps but they sound better.
One use of distortion which demonstrates this very well is in the electric guitar.
Which is a whole different Great Debate. But at the upper end, as on The Kinks' "You Really Got Me," high point of tube amp art in which the odd characteristics of valves cranked to eleven are used to further the artist's creativity, when they start to ringing it's a sound you just can't reproduce with solid state equipment.

Am I culturally biased? Are minor keys only "sad" in some cultures, such as the West, or is it universal?

Tedster
02-03-2001, 11:59 PM
Heck, I read somewhere that certain key combinations were *illegal* way back when, the middle ages I suppose. Black Sabbath, of course had no qualms about playing that particular set of notes.

I think it's off of their "paranoid" lp, right before "War Pigs"; it's a sort of three note dirge that does sort of raise the hair on the back of your neck.

ponzicar
05-07-2013, 03:29 AM
Let's not assume that just because they sound sad to our ears, that they are sad for everyone. Have there been any studies of how people from different cultures and/or unfamiliar with western music interpret them?

JKellyMap
05-07-2013, 04:23 AM
Let's not assume that just because they sound sad to our ears, that they are sad for everyone. Have there been any studies of how people from different cultures and/or unfamiliar with western music interpret them?

IIRC, musicologist Gerard Kubik found that, in much of West Africa, the minor third interval is "female" and the major third interval is "male." Like sex and love, the preference is to combine the two -- to hit the sweet spot right between them. Thus....the blues!

This is surely an oversimplification, but I think that was the gist of it.

EmilyG
05-07-2013, 08:21 AM
Do zombies feel sad when they listen to music in minor keys? ;)

There are actually quite a few upbeat pop/rock songs in minor keys. And some sad music in major keys.

Ají de Gallina
05-07-2013, 08:54 AM
Heck, I read somewhere that certain key combinations were *illegal* way back when, the middle ages I suppose. Black Sabbath, of course had no qualms about playing that particular set of notes.

I think it's off of their "paranoid" lp, right before "War Pigs"; it's a sort of three note dirge that does sort of raise the hair on the back of your neck.

The tritone wasn't illegal, but in certain temperaments in sounded really disonant and disonance wasn't really big in the Midlle Ages. The stories about excommunications are false.

friedo
05-07-2013, 09:36 AM
I wrote a really sad flute melody once in C major. IMHO the happiness or sadness of the tune has more to do with the intervals and rhythms you use than the key. A minor key does give you more opportunities to use more dissonant intervals around the tonic, though.

Kevbo
05-07-2013, 10:01 AM
Valves produce some distortion but it is always in odd harmonics but transistors produce even harmonics.(IIRC odd harmonics can be combined to produce triangle waves and even harmonics combine to produce squarewaves)



You got that backward. It is the transistors that tend to produce odd harmonics, and it is the odd harmonics that sound more dissonant.

As to why minor keys sound sad, part if it may be training, as people who score movies and such tend to use them that way.

And not everyone experiences this. Me for example...could never "feel" what people were talking about with emotional reactions to different keys or intervals. Same deal with "warm" and "cool" colors: I totally don't get it.

moriah
05-07-2013, 11:50 AM
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlefolk sounds sad?

jayjay
05-07-2013, 03:30 PM
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlefolk sounds sad?

Well, it does, kind of. It's always sounded melancholy to me, despite the lyrics.

outlierrn
05-07-2013, 04:02 PM
Lots of hymns are in minor keys with a major home chord on the final measure. I forget the proper term, but I always wanted to call that the resurrected cadence.

billfish678
05-07-2013, 04:09 PM
Did the theme music the series The Incredible hulk use minor keys (I know didly about music)?

Cause, man for such a short series of notes it was pretty depressing.

TheSeaOtter
05-07-2013, 04:25 PM
This paper suggests that the association is learned behavior:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02856522


Abstract
Children aged 3 to 4 and 7 to 8 years listened to eight tunes which were either in the major or minor mode and either unaccompanied melody or harmonized. For each tune children selected one of two schematic faces chosen to depict happy or sad facial expressions. Children 7 to 8 years old showed a significant major-happy and minor-sad connotation, which was also shown by adults. However 3 to 4 year-olds did not show any such significant association between musical mode and emotional response. Harmonic accompaniment significantly increased the frequency of happy responses. The results support the idea of a learned association between mode and emotional response.

samclem
05-07-2013, 04:59 PM
Moving this zombie to Cafe Society since it's about music.

samclem, moderator

fachverwirrt
05-07-2013, 07:38 PM
Lots of hymns are in minor keys with a major home chord on the final measure. I forget the proper term, but I always wanted to call that the resurrected cadence.

It's a Picardy Third.

And I hate it.

Chronos
05-07-2013, 09:54 PM
Quoth friedo:

IMHO the happiness or sadness of the tune has more to do with the intervals and rhythms you use than the key.
Case in point: Taps is in major key. Play it fast, and it sounds like a fanfare. Play it slowly (as it normally is), and it's... Well, not necessarily "unhappy", but at least somber.

EmilyG
05-08-2013, 05:07 PM
It's a Picardy Third.

And I hate it.

There's actually a piano piece by Mendelssohn which does the reverse: it's in major, with a minor final chord.

Bill Door
05-08-2013, 05:29 PM
Did O Fortuna sound ominous back in 1936, or have we been conditioned to believe it so by its use in hundreds of movies to signify approaching doom?

dotchan
05-09-2013, 01:50 PM
Did O Fortuna sound ominous back in 1936, or have we been conditioned to believe it so by its use in hundreds of movies to signify approaching doom?

And you're not a proper mad scientist/eccentric masked psychopath unless you have an organ on which to play J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Mino.

Malacandra
05-09-2013, 02:13 PM
Case in point: Taps is in major key. Play it fast, and it sounds like a fanfare. Play it slowly (as it normally is), and it's... Well, not necessarily "unhappy", but at least somber.

All bugle calls are necessarily in major keys - the harmonic series doesn't offer even a limited alternative.

pulykamell
05-09-2013, 02:27 PM
All bugle calls are necessarily in major keys - the harmonic series doesn't offer even a limited alternative.

Well, you can kinda sorta eke out a minor tonality if you make E the tonic, but when you hit that C, your brain is going to want to interpret that as major. That said, have a second bugle drone an E, and you can force a minor tonality on it. (But that really wouldn't be a bugle call then, I think.)

Malacandra
05-09-2013, 03:28 PM
Well, you can kinda sorta eke out a minor tonality if you make E the tonic, but when you hit that C, your brain is going to want to interpret that as major. That said, have a second bugle drone an E, and you can force a minor tonality on it. (But that really wouldn't be a bugle call then, I think.)

E and G's all you have really - I mean, I thought of including this nitpick myself but figured if you can't even make a tonic triad then you're in the realms of trivia.

pulykamell
05-09-2013, 05:00 PM
E and G's all you have really - I mean, I thought of including this nitpick myself but figured if you can't even make a tonic triad then you're in the realms of trivia.

Sure, it's definitely trivial. But if you are allowed that second bugle with an E drone, you can give it a clear minor tonality. C'mon, we're supposed to think outside the box. :)

Marley23
05-09-2013, 05:49 PM
Did O Fortuna sound ominous back in 1936, or have we been conditioned to believe it so by its use in hundreds of movies to signify approaching doom?
The lyrics are rather doomy.

EmilyG
05-09-2013, 06:02 PM
Well, you can kinda sorta eke out a minor tonality if you make E the tonic, but when you hit that C, your brain is going to want to interpret that as major. That said, have a second bugle drone an E, and you can force a minor tonality on it. (But that really wouldn't be a bugle call then, I think.)

As a composer, maybe I should experiment with this in my next composition. :p

$3Bill
05-09-2013, 09:15 PM
A lot of the local music I listen to is pentatonic, which always sounds at least a little wistful to me, but probably not to those who grew up with it. Do its intervals have anything in common with minor keys?

wolfman
05-09-2013, 10:23 PM
The lyrics are rather doomy.

I actually always thought they were kind of whiny and emo.

dropzone
05-09-2013, 10:56 PM
Y'know, I looked at the thread title and said to myself, I said, "That's a good question!" Little did I know....Do zombies feel sad when they listen to music in minor keys? ;)I know I do, and did many years ago. Let's not assume that just because they sound sad to our ears, that they are sad for everyone. Have there been any studies of how people from different cultures and/or unfamiliar with western music interpret them?Another good question! Glad I asked it! :D
Am I culturally biased? Are minor keys only "sad" in some cultures, such as the West, or is it universal?
Well, it does, kind of. It's always sounded melancholy to me, despite the lyrics.Me, too. That might have been my original trigger.
Did O Fortuna sound ominous back in 1936, or have we been conditioned to believe it so by its use in hundreds of movies to signify approaching doom?Well, do you know who liked it a whole lot? That adds a whole 'nother level of ominousness. :eek:
If you want more information about music and emotions and get the answer, why music touches us emotionally, you can download the essay "Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings" for free. You can get it on the link:
http://www.willimekmusic.homepage.t-online.de/homepage/Striving/Striving.doc

Enjoy readingI will, Bernd, though I'm leaning toward TheSeaOtter's learned behavior as an obvious explanation. Further investigation into the effects of minor keys in other cultures, for instance, could falsify your hypothesis in a stroke, and I look forward to reading about the details of your experiment's methodology.

outlierrn
05-09-2013, 11:14 PM
A lot of the local music I listen to is pentatonic, which always sounds at least a little wistful to me, but probably not to those who grew up with it. Do its intervals have anything in common with minor keys?

Do you mean the melody is based on a pentatonic scale? If so, the minor pentatonic scale could be thought of as a minor 11th arppegio; root, minor third, perfect fourth (11), perfect fifth, minor seventh, octave. Lot of blues solos begin with that.

BigT
05-10-2013, 01:31 AM
Even if it is learned behavior, I'd be interested in knowing how it is learned. Particularly with the dearth of popular music in minor keys, you'd think there'd be many who didn't learn it early enough for it to take hold. That is, unless there's something more than just hearing sad lyrics put to minor keys and happy lyrics put to major ones.

Stark Raven Mad
05-10-2013, 09:00 PM
A new video from PBS Idea Channel: Is Sad Music Actually Sad? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWWYE4eLEfk)

The reading list seems interesting - I'll be starting on it tomorrow.

$3Bill
05-11-2013, 12:15 AM
Do you mean the melody is based on a pentatonic scale? If so, the minor pentatonic scale could be thought of as a minor 11th arppegio; root, minor third, perfect fourth (11), perfect fifth, minor seventh, octave. Lot of blues solos begin with that.
Yes, that's what I meant. If I hadn't felt two sidetracks were excessive, I was going to ask about the blues too. Thanks.

dropzone
05-12-2013, 08:38 PM
I will, Bernd, though I'm leaning toward TheSeaOtter's learned behavior as an obvious explanation. Further investigation into the effects of minor keys in other cultures, for instance, could falsify your hypothesis in a stroke, and I look forward to reading about the details of your experiment's methodology.Bernd, some notes:
1. "Vibrating Molecules and the Secret of their Feelings" I thought it was a bad translation that was inadvertently funny. Nope, that's what it is in German, too. I hope you were trying to be whimsical.

2. Next, I guessed it was pseudo-scientific claptrap and the paper would be loads of fun. Yes to the claptrap but no to the fun. I know little about music theory but the thing is that the question "Why are minor keys so sad?" has probably little to do with music theory and probably lots to do with either biology or culture. This is a "nature vs nurture" question and, as always with that question, it's a little bit of both. Music theory simply defines it.

3. Regarding your study and its methodology, I was sad to find that all you said about it was, "Numerous tests with over 2,000 volunteers in the whole world have been carried out and confirmed the general validity of this theory." With no further description I can only assume that your so-called "study" consisted of asking the Vienna Boys Choir if this sounds sad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyFyAqLtHq8) and this sounds happy. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgXcQ)

4. Google Translate and Babelfish can get you in the ball park, but a final translation requires the help of someone who knows what you are talking about and speaks both the starting and destination languages. I'm one out of three there and have enough of my own "translating German when I don't really speak it" that I'm not working on already to help.

5. Thanks to that guy who also liked "O Fortuna," the Nietzschean use of "will" triggers unfortunate connections in the minds of many. Just something to be understanding about.

6. Another tip for if you want to be taken seriously: Get a new photo for your CV. (http://www.willimekmusic.de/homepage/Vita_Bernd/Vita_Bernd_Englisch.htm) One that looks less like a mug shot. And shave. Guys our age need all the help we can get looking youthful and vibrant and if you got rid of the white in your beard you'd look ten years younger.

pulykamell
05-12-2013, 09:28 PM
Particularly with the dearth of popular music in minor keys,

Not sure what you mean here. A majority of recent (last 10 years or so) Top 40 hits are minor. Minor keys are everywhere in pop music.

ETA: Here's a study ("http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/06/13/pop_music_sadder_than_it_used_to_be_a_new_study_says_yes_.html):


Between 1965 and 1969, 85 percent of the top 40 Billboard hits were written in a major key. But as the decades have passed that number has fallen dramatically: Between 2005 and 2009, only 42.5% of hits were in a major key

dropzone
05-14-2013, 07:19 PM
But-but-but now he will NEVER explain his methodology.

Er, not like I was expecting him to, but my router was down and I missed his second post before it was deleted.

DSeid
05-14-2013, 08:39 PM
Well the major more positive minor more negative all else being equal thing is at least present even in very young children (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40285496?uid=3739256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21102012427063). This book (http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=EQvmZn1Ino4C&oi=fnd&pg=PA277&dq=minor+key+emotion+culture+neurobiology&ots=erCCjEaaaK&sig=52zsm_GPVDRZIZHtDjc6uyg1SdQ#v=onepage&q&f=false) also argues that emotional connotation in music transcends cultures.

pulykamell
05-14-2013, 09:13 PM
Wow, my linking skills are at an all-time low. This was supposed to be the link. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/06/13/pop_music_sadder_than_it_used_to_be_a_new_study_says_yes_.html)

dropzone
05-14-2013, 09:59 PM
Wow, my linking skills are at an all-time low. This was supposed to be the link. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/06/13/pop_music_sadder_than_it_used_to_be_a_new_study_says_yes_.html)From there is something that keeps cropping up: Sad-sounding music tends to be in a minor key and have a slow tempo; happy-sounding music, more often than not, has the opposite characteristics. Often, that seemingly-obvious statement seems ignored by the supporters of the Nature argument. Even "Happy Birthday" can sound dirge-like with the wrong tempo, though it sounds even more so when played in a minor key.

Musicat
05-15-2013, 06:36 AM
This was supposed to be the link. (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/06/13/pop_music_sadder_than_it_used_to_be_a_new_study_says_yes_.html)With regards to that study, I would like to see the raw data before drawing conclusions. How did they determine the major/minor key status? Since much of today's music is blues-oriented, and blues deliberately blurs major/minor feelings, what kind of key is a blues-inflected song in? I know some songs that use both major and minor (either relative or parallel). Which statistical column do those fall in?

That same study compares the Beatles' Help with Mariah Carey's We Belong Together for tempo purposes and concludes that songs are getting slower. Just for fun, I listened to Help again after hearing the Mariah Carey song. If you alter the accents for one or the other, they are almost exactly the same tempo (double time the Carey song, half-time the Beatles'). So it's the beat division and accent that has changed over time (not to mention the instrumentation and arrangement), not the actual tempo.

(My favorite example of this is For Your Love, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2LSSgQMc2E) by The Yardbirds, which alternates tempo & feeling in sections. The faster-feeling part is actually in a slower tempo. It's the beat division/accent that makes it sound faster or slower, not the metronome numbers.)

As far as key, that Mariah Carey song is only called a major one because of music theory that suggests the tonal center is C (the only harmony used is a repetitive, continuous F MaJ7 - G - Em - F). But a C major triad is never played. This is vastly different from a Tin Pan Alley song, not to mention 17th Century harmony, upon which classical music theory is based.

Both the ambiguity of never expressing the tonal center and the ambiguity of blues flavors change the landscape; many songs cannot be put squarely in the major or minor camp. Indeed, that is the main difference I would note for today's music, and that difference began a century ago.

My point is that you can't shoehorn all songs into the same mold, then make strong assertions about how they are different.

pulykamell
05-15-2013, 10:49 AM
With regards to that study, I would like to see the raw data before drawing conclusions. How did they determine the major/minor key status? Since much of today's music is blues-oriented, and blues deliberately blurs major/minor feelings, what kind of key is a blues-inflected song in?

I was actually a bit curious about that myself, with blues in particular. But my ear tells me that tonality has shifted towards minor sounds in pop music, and this study does suggest that to be the case. When I listen to Top 40 dance music, it seems to me like that majority of it has a minor tonality (like, let's pick out an easy one, Lady Gaga--pretty much every hit of hers is minor tonality.) There is the issue of tonal ambiguity that you mention. But what I personally hear is a lot of music in minor tonalities these days. I mean, just look at stuff like Gangnam Style.

pulykamell
05-15-2013, 10:59 AM
And, personally, if I have to categorize it in one of two camps, I consider blues to be generally be in a "major" tonality harmonically. Unless you're playing minor blues, of course, which has a very different feel. The harmonies behind blues are general major chords with a dominant 7th. The melody plays with ambiguity, clashing minor thirds against major harmonies (or playing in between major and minor thirds, or incorporating both major and minor thirds, etc.) And, yes, there are those songs which are based on "power chords" which drop the third all-together from the harmony, leading to even more ambiguity.

Musicat
05-15-2013, 01:24 PM
And, personally, if I have to categorize it in one of two camps, I consider blues to be generally be in a "major" tonality harmonically. Unless you're playing minor blues, of course, which has a very different feel. The harmonies behind blues are general major chords with a dominant 7th. The melody plays with ambiguity, clashing minor thirds against major harmonies (or playing in between major and minor thirds, or incorporating both major and minor thirds, etc.) And, yes, there are those songs which are based on "power chords" which drop the third all-together from the harmony, leading to even more ambiguity.I couldn't have said it better.

I have a little experiment I often use to demonstrate how important the 3rd of a triad is, and how little of that sound is necessary to define major/minor-ness. Loudly hit as many C's and G's on a keyboard that you can almost at once, holding the sustain pedal down. What is the tonality? Ambiguous, since there's no 3rd. Then, before the sound dies away, touch, very softly, a single E or E flat, mid-keyboard. The loudness of the 3rd is very little compared to the roots and 5ths, but the major/minor-ness is firmly established.

pulykamell
05-15-2013, 01:40 PM
I couldn't have said it better.

I have a little experiment I often use to demonstrate how important the 3rd of a triad is, and how little of that sound is necessary to define major/minor-ness. Loudly hit as many C's and G's on a keyboard that you can almost at once, holding the sustain pedal down. What is the tonality? Ambiguous, since there's no 3rd. Then, before the sound dies away, touch, very softly, a single E or E flat, mid-keyboard. The loudness of the 3rd is very little compared to the roots and 5ths, but the major/minor-ness is firmly established.

Yep. I agree. I wonder why the third is so particularly important in harmony. I mean that's where the "color" comes from more or less. In jazz comping, you're taught to ignore the root/unison and the fifth and just concentrate on the third and seventh (and extended notes) to color the harmony. I wonder why those notes, in Western harmony, are particularly important.

Musicat
05-15-2013, 02:37 PM
Yep. I agree. I wonder why the third is so particularly important in harmony. I mean that's where the "color" comes from more or less. In jazz comping, you're taught to ignore the root/unison and the fifth and just concentrate on the third and seventh (and extended notes) to color the harmony. I wonder why those notes, in Western harmony, are particularly important.There's probably a good, but boring, reason due to mathematical relationships between pitches, but I'd say, "Just ask your ear."