Minor keys

onestone

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Why do minor keys sound sad? Is it because we've been told they're sad or because of the way the sounds affect our brains? Do cultures that have different musical scales find the western scale minor keys sad?

Has anyone come across books on psychology of music made simple?
 

Ruskin

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I have always disagreed with the whole major = happy, minor = sad classification. Its such a gross oversimplification. Personally, I'm much more of a minor key kind of guy, but that is because I find them much more expressive and passionate than major keys, which often seem quite frivolous to my ear.
 

Abstraction

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minor keys dont always sound sad necessarily, and when they do it certainly isnt because someone has told they do. if that was true then you would have to know what key every tune you listen to was in before you could 'decide' how it sounds. take a cliche example like adagio for strings, i dont even know for sure what key that tune is in, with my limited knowledge of music theory i can assume its in a minor key but that doesnt even matter, its a sad tune no matter how you cut it.

i think there was a thread on this in general discussion ages ago, ill see if i can find it
 

Ruskin

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Adagio for Strings is actually in a major key. :Smile3: Which proves you right really, because I agree - it's a lamenting piece of music.
 

Rorymonster

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Oversimplification. Firstly there are many different major and minor modes, all of which convey different moods. But musical mood is determined by much more than just the key - all aspects are relevant.
Think of Jewish folk music (e.g. Fiddler on the roof) all in minor keys, and all very jolly. Perhaps this isn't the best example for a psy forum!!
 

NotaMongoose

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I don't know much about the psychology of music, but the key is in the intervals.

ie... a perfect fifth (C to G) between the root note and the fifth note of a scale is always there, because the fifth is the first natural harmonic after the octave.

There is such a thing as a perfect third, which is the next occuring harmonic I think (there is a VST I played with once that just does harmonics, I can't remember what it is.
But our tuning system does not have this third. Because of our system of equal temperence (thank to JS Bach), our tuning system was derived from the 7 upper harmonics that make up the octave (C D E F G A B), with the sharps or flats being equally distributed between the whole tone intervals.

God I can hardly remember this at all...

Before equal temperence, notes from the mode (7 note scale) being used could be either sharpened or flattened a small amount to produce a slightly different interval. Basically this is to make the interval sound a bit more 'off' (and change the relationship between the harmonics), and thus less harmonious. Less harmonious = less happy.

With equal temperance, the amount things are sharpened or flattened are equal. So...

no I can't remember what difference equal temperence made... but I shall continue...

The point that I eventually wanted to get to, somehow, was about the position of the minor third.

Ahh yes...

The natural harmonics lead to a set of intervals that sound good together and do not interfere with each other as much. But the closer they are together, the more they interfere anyway. So a perfect octave, or a perfect fifth, which are natural harmonics and far apart, hardly interfere at all. The more an interval interferes, the more unnatural harmonics are produced, and the 'worse' the psychological effect on the brain.
It seems to me that there's a few checkpoints the brain needs for a chord to sound good. First, it can be too empty (not enough harmonics), so enough notes are needed to fill it out. If it gets too full, then all the interferences in the intervals make it sound discordant. But between there is an area where you have tonality and things sound harmonious.
For a major chord these are the intervals: root, major third, perfect fifth, (octave)
For a minor chord: root, minor third, perfect fifth.
(A major third is 5 semitones including the two notes. So C to E is a major third, because it contains C, C#, D, Eb and E. Similarly, C to Eb is a minor third because it has 4 semitones)

A major third is closer to a natural harmonic than a minor third, so it interferes less and has a better response in our brain. If our brain is responding well to stimuli, it is happy, and we are happy.
But both of the chords contain both a major third and a minor third if you look closely, since you must also think of the interval between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the chord.
But the root of the chord is the most important note, and so it is intervals with this note that determine the tonality.

God this is quite a ramble... and I'm not really saying much at all... it's what you get when you have been revising for your maths degree finals for three weeks solid, and not thinking about anything else...

:huh:
:sun:
 

jamez_23

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< see avatar for comment .......

I'll read up on music theory one day .....
 

RedZebra

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Hehe, that was quite a ramble, NotAMongoose, but I think you might be on the right track about some intervals sounding dissonant (eg: two notes right next to eachother), or harmonious (assonant) because of agreement between the harmonics. But does this explain the difference between major and minor 3rds? Is minor more dissonant? dunno.

by the way, my favourites have always been the minor chords :Smile3: but I also found it got a bit boring playing only minor, and you need to chuck in a few major ones too - probably the contrast increases their power...
 

NotaMongoose

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Yeah that's what I was trying to say. In a major chord, there is a major 3rd interval between the root note and 2nd note, then a minor third interval between the 2nd note and 3rd note. In a minor chord, the minor third interval is with the root note, and the major with the third note.
So there's two thirds, one more dissonant with the other. In a minor chord, the more dissonant third is with the most major note, and so it is more prominent, and produces a more dissonant effect in our mind.

Dissonant enough for it to envoke sadness, but not enough to make it sound horrible :Smile3:
 

Meijin

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When I was a kid, B flat was my favourite note - now to some it has a dampning effect because it is only a 1/2 note down from C. However, to me it added depth and (somehow) a more modern sound, a change in key or character if you will.

As far as Notamongoose's point(s) - on the violin there are only 4 strings but a possible 117 notes if one includes tones and shades. Of course human hearing is very subjective and it may be quite possible that 'we' only hear a fraction of the resonance of any string, but perhaps more interestingly (or not) is whether the 'nanonisation' of musical scales thru the use of digital instrument and recording techniques may eventually mean that altho' a computer PLAYS a particular note, we CANNOT hear it, or the subtle distinction between it and any other 'nearby'. Off topic I know...
I wonder what 'notes' superstrings make when they resonate?
 

andrew

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I know what u mean... but it's not that hard :Smile3:

jamez_23 said:
< see avatar for comment .......

I'll read up on music theory one day .....

i know what you mean mate - but knowing a couple of scales does help speed things up a little, ie knowing what notes to try together in a bit of midi. It also brought me a good deal of satisfaction for some strange reason.. i guess finally understanding something which I've not understood for years and ignored in music class at skool coz the teachers were sooo boring. I've got a word doc which helped me get my head around it all (it's only a 1 pager), but can't upload coz psyforum won't allow non picture attachments. perhaps pm me and I'll email it to u (or whoever else would like a copy)

Cheers

Andrew
 

psyfi

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NIGEL plays piano

MARTY: It's pretty.<O:p</O:p

NIGEL: Yeah, I like it, just been fooling about with it for a few months now,<O:p</O:p

very delicate.<O:p</O:p

MARTY: It's a, it's a bit of a departure from the kind of thing you normally<O:p</O:p

play.<O:p</O:p

NIGEL: Yeah, it's part of a...trilogy really, a musical trilogy I'm doing...<O:p</O:p
in... D minor, which I always find is really the saddest of all keys<O:p</O:p
really. I don't know why, but it makes people weep instantly,<O:p</O:p
you play a..baaaaa...baaaaaa.... it's the horn part.<O:p</O:p

MARTY: It's very pretty<O:p</O:p

<O:p</O:p
NIGEL: ...baaaa, baaaaa, yeah, just simple lines intertwining, you know<O:p</O:p

very much like, I'm really influenced by Mozart and Bach, It's sort<O:p</O:p

of in between those, really, it's like a Mach piece really, it's..<O:p</O:p

MARTY: What do you call this?<O:p></O:p>
NIGEL: Well, this piece is called "Lick My Love Pump".<O:p</O:p

MARTY: hmm.<O:p</O:p

 

Meijin

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"..from major to mynooorrrr..."

but that track 'Summertime and the living is Easy' in 'Porgy and Bess' has a ludircrous switch from major to minor in the first 1st bar - like a 65 ft drop...
 

onestone

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Ruskin said:
I have always disagreed with the whole major = happy, minor = sad classification. Its such a gross oversimplification. Personally, I'm much more of a minor key kind of guy, but that is because I find them much more expressive and passionate than major keys, which often seem quite frivolous to my ear.
Of course it's an oversimplification - I suppose I should have added "in general". OK I'll put my question in your words. Why do you find minor keys expressive and passionate and major keys frivolous?

Double_Helix said:
.....take a cliche example like adagio for strings, i dont even know for sure what key that tune is in, with my limited knowledge of music theory i can assume its in a minor key but that doesnt even matter, its a sad tune no matter how you cut it. ...
I think ruskin is right, it is a major key and there are other examples. This would change the question to why do some tunes sound sad.

However, back to the original question - if you heard the chord of A followed by A minor, are you going to tell me that one won't sound sad compared to the other?
 

Meijin

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I'll hurta your head


but its very difficult to do a scientific experiment to prove you wrong (i.e., that a minor isn't sad) - by this \I mean that how do you know that you haven't been conditioned to accept a minor key as 'sad' within the context of western music?? It may be that on Titan or in Malawi a minor key has a totally different connotation. But we cannot wipe your brain clean and start with 2 children, one of whom (you) was socialised into thinking a minor key was sad and the other who was assured the minor connotated good uplifting feelings, therefore it is almost impossible to tell if major/minor keys and emotions are conditioned...altho' environmental noises like splitting, cracking, booming (see thunder) are all low keyed so maybe the minors are warning notes

however, it may be that something else is going on (mwahahahaha)
 

Ruskin

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onestone said:
Of course it's an oversimplification - I suppose I should have added "in general". OK I'll put my question in your words. Why do you find minor keys expressive and passionate and major keys frivolous?

I think ruskin is right, it is a major key and there are other examples. This would change the question to why do some tunes sound sad.
I don't know why it is that my brain interprets the interval of the minor third as more expressive than that of the major third, I'm not a psychologist. What I do know is that there are peices of music, such as Barber's Adagio for Strings, which despite being in a major key (which I know for sure, having performed it in a quartet) have a sad or lamenting feel to them, and vica verca. What Meijin said is right - western musical thinking has ingrained these associations into our minds for whatever reason, but that definately does not mean that these intervals have the same connotations for people from, say, Asia.
 

RedZebra

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Meijin said:
on the violin there are only 4 strings but a possible 117 notes if one includes tones and shades.

I assumed you could make a note of any frequency with a violin, since there aren;t any frets like on a guitar. Isn't that the case?

I don't know that much about it, but music from various countries uses different tonal scales to the "western" scale - some with 15 notes or I think Indian has 23 or something doesnt it? You have to listen to it a while to get used to the tonalities and intervals. Some synths have settings where you can change the scale you're using, but it would take some serious avant garde artist to be bothered studying all that crap (IMHO) :Smile3:
 
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