Music Philosophy Debate #1

Topic of debate…

How does music affect the human soul in the way that it does?  Why should it be, that a tune in a major key ‘sounds’ happy, and one in minor ‘sounds’ sad?

I understand that in any given key there are both major and minor chords, and the modes that go with them, etc… That doesn’t quite answer my question.

I am talking grass roots, back to basics, music theory.

What is it that makes the intervals between notes ‘feel’ a certain way?

Try playing a chord for your friends and measure what feeling they would attach to it. We all know that a major chord would be happy, and a minor chord would be sad. But see what they think of the Major7s and minor7b5. If you don’t play an instrument, you can find them online.

Since getting into music theory I haven’t quite worked this one out yet…Any input would be greatly appreciated.

7 thoughts on “Music Philosophy Debate #1

  1. I’ve never taken music theory, but my mom is a psychologist. She did some very interesting experiments about how music affects intelligence. She had rats run a maze and then listen to music, The classical rats made it through the maze faster, the country rats made it through a little slower. The rats without music got a little faster and the hard metal rats became violent, had to be separated, and tried to eat the maze.

    Needless to say I was only allowed to listen to classical growing up.


  2. Maybe the brain is hardwired to respond one way to minor chords, another to major chords. But then how do we explain, for example, Chinese singing, which just sounds like a tortured cat to anyone whose brain isn’t adapted to it. So how much of our response is organic and how much is cultural?

  3. Pingback: Music Philosophy Debate #2 | The Blues Poodle

  4. hmm I have asked quite a few people how they can tell the difference between minor and major chords, and they usually raise their eyebrows if I say “sad” or “happy” so I feel like it’s a Westernized convention, but as blissinger said before, some cultures have extensive dissonance and like it very much.. and don’t find minor to be depressing at all.. I think it all depends on how you are exposed to music in the different contexts.. Western composers will always use minor keys for sad things like elegies and funeral marches, so I suppose people link sad feelings with them in time 😛 when I listen to Gregorian chants and other things in rather dissonant keys like Mixolydian and Dorian, it all sounds rather depressing to me but people back then found it very passionate and very.. ‘happy’ and ‘inspiring’ in an uplifting way.


  5. I have had the privilage to be raised in a home where all music was listened to. I played in a school band from 5th grade to graduation from high school. I firmly believe that music is the soul. Without it our lives would be so dark. It creates emotion, thought and feelings. I can’t live without it.

  6. I agree with Michelle that “sadness” and “happiness” in music are cultural. I’m an American living in Brazil and have also lived in Mexico and I’ve noticed that in these places minor keys are not necessarily thought of as being “sad.”

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