We all experience music almost every day that gives rise to various emotions, though commercials, films, games or our personal connection with our favorite album. It is commonly known informally that major keys make happier melodies than minor keys, and different scales and performative elements can make music sound more sad or happy, depending on the characteristics of those elements.
But what is it about the sound of a low legato cello that makes it more sad than a high jumpy melody on a marimba? In this post, we take a look at how sounds can evoke emotions, starting with its building blocks.
When we listen to a melody, we’re usually able to understand if it sounds good or bad after just a few notes are played. The underlying cognitive processing employed to arrive at such an assessment – although extremely sophisticated – is carried out on an almost unconscious level. It all feels so natural that we don’t realise how many simultaneous elements are contributing to the overall experience. Indeed, a melody is a complex musical construct that involves many musical domains at once. There is pitch content involved, obviously. But a melody also comprises note durations, rhythmic and metrical elements, accents, structural relationships between the different subsets of the melody, articulations and dynamics.