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Music and speech share a code for communicating sadness in the minor third

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Here’s a little experiment. You know “Greensleeves“—the famous English folk song? Go ahead and hum it to yourself. Now choose the emotion you think the song best conveys: (a) happiness, (b) sadness, (c) anger or (d) fear.

Almost everyone thinks “Greensleeves” is a sad song—but why? Apart from the melancholy lyrics, it’s because the melody prominently features a musical construct called the minor third, which musicians have used to express sadness since at least the 17th century. The minor third’s emotional sway is closely related to the popular idea that, at least for Western music, songs written in a major key (like “Happy Birthday”) are generally upbeat, while those in a minor key (think of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”) tend towards the doleful.

The tangible relationship between music and emotion is no surprise to anyone, but a study in the June issue of Emotion suggests the minor third isn’t a facet of musical communication alone—it’s how we convey sadness in speech, too. When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language.

In the study, Meagan Curtis of Tufts University’s Music Cognition Lab recorded undergraduate actors reading two-syllable lines—like “let’s go” and “come here”—with different emotional intonations: anger, happiness, pleasantness and sadness (listen to the recordings here). She then used a computer program to analyze the recorded speech and determine how the pitch changed between syllables. Since the minor third is defined as a specific measurable distance between pitches (a ratio of frequencies), Curtis was able to identify when the actors’ speech relied on the minor third. What she found is that the actors consistently used the minor third to express sadness.

“Historically, people haven’t thought of pitch patterns as conveying emotion in human speech like they do in music,” Curtis said. “Yet for sad speech there is a consistent pitch pattern. The aspects of music that allow us to identify whether that music is sad are also present in speech.”

Curtis also synthesized musical intervals from the recorded phrases spoken by actors, stripping away the words, but preserving the change in pitch. So a sad “let’s go” would become a sequence of two tones. She then asked participants to rate the degree of perceived anger, happiness, pleasantness and sadness in the intervals. Again, the minor third consistently was judged to convey sadness.

A possible explanation for why music and speech might share the same code for expressing emotion is the idea that both emerged from a common evolutionary predecessor, dubbed “musilanguage” by Steven Brown, a cognitive neuroscientist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby (Vancouver), British Columbia.  But Curtis points out that right now there is no effective means of empirically testing this hypothesis or determining whether music or language evolved first.

What also remains unclear is whether the minor third’s influence spans cultures and languages, which is one of the questions that Curtis would like to explore next. Previous studies have shown that people can accurately interpret the emotional content of music from cultures different than their own, based on tempo and rhythm alone.

“I have only looked at speakers of American English, so it’s an open question whether it’s a phenomenon that exists specifically in American English or across cultures,” Curtis explained. “Who knows if they are using the same intervals in, say, Hindi?”

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/biffspandex





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  1. 1. Private Nemo 6:28 pm 06/17/2010

    There’s almost always a minor third interval (usually F to D) when people chant, "Air ball!"

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  2. 2. Monki 9:07 pm 06/17/2010

    My Burmese cat has a minor third range – mostly starting on F or F#

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  3. 3. Johnay 11:14 pm 06/17/2010

    I think the experiment was flawed in its use of actors. The consistency of tone may have come not from natural inclinations but from common training on how to "act" the various emotions. Sure, those probably stem from natural emotional tones, but they do come through the filter of training and established "vocabulary" of acting.

    Better to have random people read the words (or to edit the phrases in whole from natural sources such as recordings of real conversations) and then have others identify what emotion they think their tone conveys. Then you’ll have a sampling of natural emotional tones to analyze.

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  4. 4. Johnay 11:29 pm 06/17/2010

    Expanding on the issue of the established vocabulary of acting, I wonder also whether there is influence the other way, with the emotional tones of speech imitating the tones heard in sad songs and scenes from the various entertainment media.

    I wonder if the results would vary more among people not exposed to such cultural influence.

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  5. 5. mcurtis 12:29 am 06/18/2010

    Johnay, we have conducted follow-up research (unpublished at this point) using people with no acting experience and have replicated our findings described in this article. We’ve also had participants rate the emotions conveyed by the speech data, and we’ve found that the minor third is also a powerful cue for identifying sadness in speech.

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  6. 6. hnkelley 12:32 am 06/18/2010

    Not being familiar with the technicalities of music, my idea might not be functional, but…

    Take an instrumental piece and convert it into several different styles- ‘normal’, ‘up-beat’ (major key), ‘sad’ (minor third), etc. This is the same piece played in several different tones. Then play each for random people and gauge their response. This would help delineate the emotional quality and perception of each tonal style.

    Likewise, record a set of random people making the same emotion-neutral statement. Then convert these into several different tonal styles as above and play for a random selection of people, once again noting their response. This would deepen our understanding of the emotional qualities of speech and help prove or disprove the thesis of this article.

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  7. 7. hnkelley 12:33 am 06/18/2010

    Not being familiar with the technicalities of music, my idea might not be functional, but…

    Take an instrumental piece and convert it into several different styles- ‘normal’, ‘up-beat’ (major key), ‘sad’ (minor third), etc. This is the same piece played in several different tones. Then play each for random people and gauge their response. This would help delineate the emotional quality and perception of each tonal style.

    Likewise, record a set of random people making the same emotion-neutral statement. Then convert these into several different tonal styles as above and play for a random selection of people, once again noting their response. This would deepen our understanding of the emotional qualities of speech and help prove or disprove the thesis of this article.

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  8. 8. worldcitizen 1:36 am 06/18/2010

    This research and article will be far more interesting and informed once the research and work is done across languages and cultures. Old English ballads, Beatles songs and American English hardly tell a comprehensive, fact-checked story. This tells an American story — another one.

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  9. 9. Johnay 2:12 am 06/18/2010

    Very nice to hear back from you, mcurtis. And good to hear you thought of the acting issue too.

    Any plans to try to replicate the experiment in other cultures? It seems from the comments there is interest.

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  10. 10. Rockford 2:46 am 06/18/2010

    Being very interested in music and language, I find research into the musicality of speech patters compelling. Some of the results seem almost obvious when pointed out, but I’m not sure I would have ever noticed something as specific as the minor-key relation on my own. Neat.

    @worldcitizen
    Neither old English ballads, minor keys, nor The Beatles are American, but you might also note that the name on the masthead is not Scientific Humanoids of Planet Earth. As for the the lack of cross-cultural comparison, that is directly noted in the article.

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  11. 11. Roamer 6:12 am 06/18/2010

    I have been wondering since long ago why a half tone difference between a major and minor chord causes so different emotions as happiness and sadness. This phenomenon is general not only for English language cultures. I am Russian, and it’s true for Russians too. Actually, it is common with all European cultures, as far as I knowm . I think that experiments are needed with some Oriental cultures. I studied music and I know that Chinese music has a different "mode", i.e. is based on five notes instead of seven, as is true with the European music. If native Chinese react to major and minor chords the same way as Europeans or Americans do, chances are that the phenomenon has a physiological basis, i.e. the difference in pitch activates different neurocircuits of the brain.

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  12. 12. Roamer 6:25 am 06/18/2010

    This phenomenon is common not only with English speaking people. Actually, it is true for all European cultures as far as I know. Experiments are needed with some Oriental cultures. I studied music and I know that Chinese music has a "mode" different from European, i.e., it is based on five notes instead of seven, as is the case with us. If native Chinese react to major and minor chords the same way, chances are that the resulting emotions have a physiological basis because this half-tone difference in pitch activates different neurocircuits in the brain.

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  13. 13. rockhopper 7:51 am 06/18/2010

    So are Mozart’s two G Minor Symphonies sad? I think not. Have a listen.

    nyah nyah.
    (which is a minor third)

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  14. 14. rockhopper 7:53 am 06/18/2010

    So are Mozart’s two G Minor Symphonies sad? I don’t think so. Have a listen for yourself.

    nyah nyah
    (which is a minor third)

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  15. 15. mbarankin 10:32 am 06/18/2010

    Our perception of music (or tones) is STRONGLY culturally determined!
    Yes, the minor third has been used to express melancholy or sadness for several hundreds of years. But in ancient musical traditions, minor intervals (esp. 3 & 6) were used to express dramatic good feeling; while major intervals were used for distress or sadness. So perhaps (most likely) if you’d asked an Ancient Greek to say "let’s go" with sadness, it would’ve been a major 3rd…

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  16. 16. mbarankin 10:49 am 06/18/2010

    Many middle-eastern and oriental musical traditions are "modal" meaning they do not correspond to the Western "scale" with equal temperament, established hundreds of years ago. Each culture employs various modes (some pentatonic, with 5 tones, as you mentioned, which may be considered *both* major and minor; others are more complicated, like Dorian, Phrygian, etc.). Much ancient music (e.g., Middle-Eastern, Greek, Latin) is also modal, and differs profoundly in many ways
    And indeed, our perceptions of music are strongly culturally determined; not only by geography, but by temporality. Someone in ancient Greece would have *very* different perceptions of a certain tone pattern than someone in modern Greece. So there is no inherent connection between a given musical interval to bio-neurology (nature) but rather a learned relationship (nurture).

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  17. 17. computermusik1 12:13 pm 06/18/2010

    Being a composer as well as a scientist by training, I need to point out that the minor third also occurs as the top interval in a major triad. So if someone sings the minor third e-g or g-e in the C major context, this interval actually sounds upbeat because it is part of the C major triad gestalt. Therefore, to come to a somewhat sensible conclusion, Curtis should have also taken the tonal context into consideration, and determined whether the bottom note of the minor third was indeed established as a tonic or not, e.g. by measuring its relative frequency of occurrence. Otherwise, I hate to say, the whole things is not serious science.

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  18. 18. mcurtis 7:39 pm 06/18/2010

    As the author of this research, I’ve been very interested in the ideas and concerns expressed in these comments. Of course, most of the points raised in the comments are issues that my coauthor and I have addressed in the research reported here (but obviously not described in this brief summary of our findings) or that we are addressing in follow-up research. Perhaps the most interesting question is whether these findings extend across cultures. Our initial investigation was restricted to American English and Western music. We have plans to look at vocalizations from other languages and non-Western musical systems. We simply don’t know yet whether these findings will generalize across cultures.

    There has been relatively little formal research done on the communication of emotion in non-Western music, but there is evidence to suggest that recognition of emotion in music is somewhat stable across cultures (see the work of Gregory & Varney; Balkwill; and Fritz), even when one is completely unfamiliar with the musical system being assessed. It is unknown to what extent cross-cultural recognition of emotion is driven by the individual properties of tempo, rhythm, and mode. Together, these properties can communicate emotion across cultures. But there needs to be more research on the individual contributions of each acoustic property in order to truly address the issue of cross-cultural recognition of emotion in music.

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  19. 19. mcurtis 8:24 pm 06/18/2010

    @computermusik1
    Thank you for raising this point. As there are only two salient pitches in the speech samples, there is no greater "tonal context" in which to assess these pitch relationships. Moreover, my coauthor and I do not claim that there is a tonal structure to the pitch patterns in speech, as that is beyond the scope of this study. We have simply observed in our data set that a two-pitch pattern approximating a downward minor third occurs in sad speech more often than any other pitch pattern. I completely understand why you wish to consider the tonal context of this minor third, as that is an obvious question that one would ask within the context of tonal music. Anecdotally, we do have perceptual ratings that speak to your concern, but these are not reported as part of the publication. As part of our pitch contour analysis of the speech samples, we enlisted a highly-trained musician to perceptually notate the pitch contours of the speech samples as though they were musical melodies, and to indicate any tonal relationships that were perceived. The independent assessments of the sad speech samples suggest that the perceived relationship was between the third and tonic. However, these assessments were made by one individual, so make of that what you will. My suggestion to you would be to follow the above link (in the article) to the speech samples and listen to the examples containing the minor third. Make your own assessments about the tonal function of the minor third. I would be very surprised if you hear it as having any relationship other than that between the third and tonic.

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  20. 20. e_journeys 4:17 pm 06/20/2010

    To expand on computermusik1′s and rockhopper’s comments, tonal context plays a major (pun intended) role in the way music conveys emotions. Take, for example, the ascending minor third that begins "So Long, Farewell" in The Sound of Music. Although it’s a song of parting, I find its tone generally upbeat, thanks to the context of a major triad. For a descending minor third, take the first two notes of "A Bicycle Built For Two," also upbeat (and also expanding to a major triad).

    Steve Reich’s "Different Trains" — a powerful work in which he converts the speech of Holocaust survivors (and others) into musical tones — conveys great sadness. Yet in the first movement, the opening musico-narration "From Chicago to New York" conveys excitement to me rather than sadness, in a minor third, through the accompanying orchestration.

    Conversely, in the third movement, the violin plays a descending *major* third ending the passage, "But today they’re all gone," and I hear that major third "all gone" as tragic. (The cellos later restate it as a minor third.)

    Rachmaninoff’s leading melody in the second movement of his Piano Concerto #4 also lends a melancholy aura to a descending major third. (Think of a sad "Three Blind Mice.")

    As for the speech recordings, I hear Happy1 as a minor second (E, F) rather than a major second; and Sad1 as a major second (#C, B) rather than a minor third. And I wonder what your ratio of major to minor third would be if you had several people call out, "Yoohoo! Dinner’s ready!"

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  21. 21. tropicalgrid 3:57 am 06/22/2010

    On another note, the two "sad" music examples in the article – "Greensleeves" and "Elanor Rigby" are based on dorian mode, which is a generally less common version of the Western Classical minor scale than either the natural minor or harmonic minor. The notable characteristic of dorian mode is that it contains a "mould-breaking" major interval between the fourth and sixth degrees of the scale. The major interval contained within the scale generates an implied major triad built on the fourth degree of the scale. For long-winded reasons I won’t get into, this gives the scale a certain "lilting" mood. And you’ll agree, when you think about it, that both "Greensleeves" and "Elanor Rigby" have a lilting quality to them. Bearing this in mind, I think that the happy vs sad diachotomy described in the article doesn’t cater too well for subtleties. However, the lilting dorian mode could be taken as further proof that major intervals contribute happiness, because the mood generated doesn’t fall purely within the "sad" camp – it’s pushed into "regretful", or somewhere nearby. So, musos out there may say "but hang on, dorian’s competitor, the harmonic minor has just as many major and minor, intervals just with 4-6th degree and 5th-7th degree intervals swapped around". True. Harmonic minor, however, is commonly associated with a more militaristic, strident type of sad tone than the dorian. Why? Because the major interval falling on the 5th degree of the scale, which implies a major triad based on the 5th degree, invokes a perfect cadence leading back to the tonic. Perfect cadences are culturally linked with ideas of establishment, offical-ness, square pegs in square holes – the Western Classical (military?) tradition. So, well I guess there are different types of sadness. There is the wandering through a field missing your loved one (dorian) and there is toiling under an oppressive autocracy (harmonic), and there are many other human emotionals and traditions, and many other scales. Notice that cultural elements have been linked all the way through this ramble? Anyway, the author accidentally hit upon a certain kind of beautiful sadness implied by a major interval consealed in the upper register of the scale. That regretful kind of "lost love" vibe comes through so nicely in those pieces. Meanwhile, let me throw a spanner in the works with "Danny Boy" which, it’s fair to say is just as sad, if not sadder than "Greensleeves". Well, "Danny Boy" is written in a major key – just like "Happy Birthday".

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  22. 22. tropicalgrid 3:59 am 06/22/2010

    On another note, the two "sad" music examples in the article – "Greensleeves" and "Elanor Rigby" are based on dorian mode, which is a generally less common version of the Western Classical minor scale than either the natural minor or harmonic minor. The notable characteristic of dorian mode is that it contains a "mould-breaking" major interval between the fourth and sixth degrees of the scale. The major interval contained within the scale generates an implied major triad built on the fourth degree of the scale. For long-winded reasons I won’t get into, this gives the scale a certain "lilting" mood. And you’ll agree, when you think about it, that both "Greensleeves" and "Elanor Rigby" have a lilting quality to them. Bearing this in mind, I think that the happy vs sad diachotomy described in the article doesn’t cater too well for subtleties. However, the lilting dorian mode could be taken as further proof that major intervals contribute happiness, because the mood generated doesn’t fall purely within the "sad" camp – it’s pushed into "regretful", or somewhere nearby. So, musos out there may say "but hang on, dorian’s competitor, the harmonic minor has just as many major and minor, intervals just with 4-6th degree and 5th-7th degree intervals swapped around". True. Harmonic minor, however, is commonly associated with a more militaristic, strident type of sad tone than the dorian. Why? Because the major interval falling on the 5th degree of the scale, which implies a major triad based on the 5th degree, invokes a perfect cadence leading back to the tonic. Perfect cadences are culturally linked with ideas of establishment, offical-ness, square pegs in square holes – the Western Classical (military?) tradition. So, well I guess there are different types of sadness. There is the wandering through a field missing your loved one (dorian) and there is toiling under an oppressive autocracy (harmonic), and there are many other human emotionals and traditions, and many other scales. Notice that cultural elements have been linked all the way through this ramble? Anyway, the author accidentally hit upon a certain kind of beautiful sadness implied by a major interval consealed in the upper register of the scale. That regretful kind of "lost love" vibe comes through so nicely in those pieces. Meanwhile, let me throw a spanner in the works with "Danny Boy" which, it’s fair to say is just as sad, if not sadder than "Greensleeves". Well, "Danny Boy" is written in a major key – just like "Happy Birthday".

    Link to this
  23. 23. Lotech 2:41 pm 06/22/2010

    I liked this research. This is a topic that if I imagined myself talking about it people would just look at me funny and try to change the subject. I am 51 years old so I remember one song that had a melody that, as I child, I thought sounded a little threatening in a depressing sort of way. The song was called "Inch Worm", you know, "measuring the marigolds". I later grew out of it and played it for my piano lessons. But the poor inchworm I thought would die before it finished measuring the marigold’s. How depressing. Its kind of like when your are 5 and your older brother grabs you, looks you right in the face and says "You know someday in the future you’re going to die!"

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  24. 24. LauraVirella 2:49 pm 06/22/2010

    Angry 2, Happy 1, Pleasant 2 and Sad 1 are all off. And I dare say, I think our intonation in speech is molded and affected by our cultural-specific music. So I would think that this "minor third in speech" is specific to Western cultures, which have been acclimated to recognize minor thirds (and sixths) as expressions of sadness.

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  25. 25. pauladriaenssens 4:30 pm 06/22/2010

    Maybe check it in chimps?

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  26. 26. pauladriaenssens 4:30 pm 06/22/2010

    Maybe check it in chimps??

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  27. 27. KateofHoboken 9:06 pm 06/22/2010

    I love these types of discussions. I wrote an essay called Are Love and Hate the Same Note? Discovery By An Organic Songwriter. I am not musically trained, but find in songwriting that I consistently use the same notes for the same emotions in different songs. I often rely on someone’s tone more than the actual words they say when trying to understand them as they speak. But when I went to live in China, all bets were off. I could no longer use tone to understand anything. Their tonal scale was unfamiliar to mine. I can say that I use A Flat in a song when I am disappointed and A Major when I am depressed. Keep the research going. I love this topic.

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  28. 28. jearnold@southtexascollege.edu 4:43 pm 06/23/2010

    Thirty years ago I introduced Major keys using Mr. Major and Mr. Minor. The Mr. Major had a smiley face and Mr. Minor had a sad face. In addition, a song was played in major and minor keys. The kids caught on very quickly (primary and Jr. High). I wish they had ear training taught that easily in my college course. One other thing that should be noted is that Seashore found vibrato was most pleasing between 6 and 8 cycles per second. Anybody out there wonder why this coordinates with alpha and the Schuman resonance?

    Link to this
  29. 29. jearnold@southtexascollege.edu 4:44 pm 06/23/2010

    Thirty years ago I introduced Major keys using Mr. Major and Mr. Minor. The Mr. Major had a smiley face and Mr. Minor had a sad face. In addition, a song was played in major and minor keys. The kids caught on very quickly (primary and Jr. High). I wish they had ear training taught that easily in my college course. One other thing that should be noted is that Seashore found vibrato was most pleasing between 6 and 8 cycles per second. Anybody out there wonder why this coordinates with alpha and the Schuman resonance?

    Link to this
  30. 30. jearnold@southtexascollege.edu 4:46 pm 06/23/2010

    Thirty years ago I introduced Major keys using Mr. Major and Mr. Minor. The Mr. Major had a smiley face and Mr. Minor had a sad face. In addition, a song was played in major and minor keys. The kids caught on very quickly (primary and Jr. High). I wish they had ear training taught that easily in my college course. One other thing that should be noted is that Seashore found vibrato was most pleasing between 6 and 8 cycles per second. Anybody out there wonder why this coordinates with alpha and the Schuman resonance?

    Link to this
  31. 31. jearnold@southtexascollege.edu 4:50 pm 06/23/2010

    Thirty years ago I introduced Major keys using Mr. Major and Mr. Minor. The Mr. Major had a smiley face and Mr. Minor had a sad face. In addition, a song was played in major and minor keys. The kids caught on very quickly (primary and Jr. High). I wish they had ear training taught that easily in my college course. One other thing that should be noted is that Seashore found vibrato was most pleasing between 6 and 8 cycles per second. Anybody out there wonder why this coordinates with alpha and the Schuman resonance? That someone stated it was flawed. Tempo can vary the affect, but try singing I’m a p[oor wayfaring stranger or the erie canal in major key.

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  32. 32. cellowyatt 1:47 pm 06/24/2010

    Across cultures is an important variable, and starts to get at the more fundamental question of whether this emotional communication is learned or universal; perhaps looking into infant directed speech, for example, would be interesting.

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  33. 33. davidteie 10:49 am 06/25/2010

    Wonderful, fascinating work! I’m sure, Meagan, you are aware of the studies that Dale Purves & Co. have done at Duke. I have been working with emotionally charged vocalizations recently and I found that courtroom testimonies available on Youtube can provide genuine emotional speech patterns for study.
    – Dave Teie (monkey music guy)

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  34. 34. jearnold@southtexascollege.edu 6:27 pm 06/25/2010

    Don’t forget diablos in the dominant 7th chord. Its dissonance requires resolving like this conflict. Chomsky’s research indicates that all children babble the same worldround. Each develops his own language based on the language that he hears. Some languages using pitch intonation do differentiate different meanings with otherwise highly similar pronunciations. Some places and primitive peoples use whistling to communicate over pretty great distances. Musical talent acquired at an early age is often encoded in the left hemiphere.

    Finally, the whole of language, music, poetry, and emotive acting are so beyond our ability to understand the fullest wholistic meaning of each. Remember before faulting actors that only 10% of meaning is communicated by the words we speak.

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  35. 35. PriderockT 12:55 pm 06/30/2010

    I’ve held many jobs, been in contact with a vast assortment of people from different countries. No matter what language one speaks, the monor third is evident when conveying sadness. Whether it’s spanish, Hindi — and yes, I have heard that language, and it’s beautiful — French or Arabic. the minor third spans the language barrier.

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  36. 36. inbetweener 1:01 pm 07/3/2010

    Why why why why why does SciAm never cite the original paper so readers can follow up. It’s frustrating in the extreme when fascinating papers like this are referred to and no references are given.

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  37. 37. Mad_mike 9:29 pm 07/18/2010

    I wonder if this is culturally specific. Would this be applicable to Western cultures and or Eastern cultures.

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  38. 38. verdai 8:31 pm 08/1/2010

    I believe the first songs will be also the last ones.
    At that time we may have learned to understand the universal language without any losses.

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  39. 39. s krishna 8:01 am 10/26/2010

    I listen to music but not an expert. An exception is Beethoven’s 5th symphony which is in C minor, that is E is flat. I do not think anybody would call, at least, the first movement sad. Another example would be Beethoven’s 3rd Piano concerto also in C minor. But I feel it is not sad, while others might. As Copland writes in his "What to listen for in Music", while music evokes emotion in some of us, to name it may be difficult and it can evolve different emotions in different people and different emotions in the same person during different periods of a person’s life

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  40. 40. chevyclutchfoot 8:49 pm 10/26/2010

    That "airball" comment made me think of something. Sometimes, when people shout "airball" in a really jeering, derogatory way, they sound more like they’re calling an F#-D rather than an F-D. The more you raise the first pitch, the more mocking it becomes. (I think New Jersey accents do this automatically). Now that I think about it, when you hear people mimicking someone else’s sadness, they often do a major third down just like that. Like Nelson’s "Ha-ha" from the Simpsons.

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  41. 41. Dr. Judi 3:35 pm 11/5/2010

    The very same melody, sang in different tempi, sounds sad or jolly. An example is the 16th Century English Folk Song "Villikins and His Dinah" and the 19th Century American Fold Song "Sweet Betsy From Pike"

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  42. 42. Kungfumonkey 4:17 pm 12/15/2011

    What would be really interesting to see is if this holds true in tonal languages like Mandarin or in any number of sub-Saharan African languages.

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  43. 43. Willimek 9:28 am 11/8/2013

    Why do Minor Keys sound sad?
    If you want to answer the question, why minor chords sound sad, there is the problem, that some minor chords don’t sound sad. The solution is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says, that music is not able to transmit emotions directly. Music can just convey processes of will, but the music listener fills this processes of will with emotions. Similar, when you watch a dramatic movie in television, the movie cannot transmit emotions directly, but processes of will. The spectator perceives the processes of will dyed with emotions – identifying with the protagonist. When you listen music you identify too, but with an anonymous will now.
    If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. If you perceive a minor chord, you identify normally with the will “I don’t want any more…”. If you play the minor chord softly, you connect the will “I don’t want any more…” with a feeling of sadness. If you play the minor chord loudly, you connect the same will with a feeling of rage. You distinguish in the same way as you would distinguish, if someone would say the words “I don’t want anymore…” the first time softly and the second time loudly.
    This operations of will in the music were unknown until the Strebetendenz-Theory discovered them. And therefore many previous researches in psychology of music failed. 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/music-and-emotions.pdf
    Enjoy reading
    Bernd Willimek

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  44. 44. Willimek 12:24 pm 05/14/2014

    Why do Minor Chords Sound Sad?

    The Theory of Musical Equilibration states that in contrast to previous hypotheses, music does not directly describe emotions: instead, it evokes processes of will which the listener identifies with.

    A major chord is something we generally identify with the message, “I want to!” The experience of listening to a minor chord can be compared to the message conveyed when someone says, “No more.” If someone were to say the words “no more” slowly and quietly, they would create the impression of being sad, whereas if they were to scream it quickly and loudly, they would be come across as furious. This distinction also applies for the emotional character of a minor chord: if a minor harmony is repeated faster and at greater volume, its sad nature appears to have suddenly turned into fury.

    The Theory of Musical Equilibration applies this principle as it constructs a system which outlines and explains the emotional nature of musical harmonies. For more information you can google Theory of Musical Equilibration.

    Bernd Willimek

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