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Topic: Emotional Key Signatures?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Orcas Island

    Emotional Key Signatures?

    The Saddest Of All Keys

    Now I'm confused...

    "B-flat minor, the saddest of all keys." - Pat Metheny

    "I'm working on in D minor which is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don't know why." - Nigel Tufnel
    What keys do you think are sad?

    happy? or other emotion?

  2. #2

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    Well, ever since Black Sabbath dropped the E string to D and recent heavy bands have popularized it D is the key of angst.

    The fact that Mozart's Requiem is in D min plus Black Sabbath plus Nigel officially makes D minor the saddest key, IMO.

    C maj is the happiest key. Its major triad is all white keys, which is why. You could argue F maj, but that's the relative major of D min, which disqualifies it.

    Oh, and I guess there's alway G-- but there's something a little shady about G. I don't trust it.

    The suspended 4th is the proggiest chord

  3. #3

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    Quote Originally Posted by neoTypic
    I think there is an inordinate amount of bias due to the musical conditioning we've been exposed to. Since we are predisposed, it's easier for composers to create an emotional impact by following what people already know.

    What a difference a third can make.
    My guess is that this is exactly right! I was reading a book about the cognition of music, and one thing that is for sure is that different people perceive music differently (e.g. a trumpet player may respond more strongly to music played on a trumpet, and a music professor may listen to music more intently than a physics professor). Also, your own brain changes its perception of music upon multiple listenings. I've noticed this myself when composing . . . sometimes I get to a point where I'm downright bored by a theme I've composed simply because I've heard it so many times.

    So . . . what keys you find happy and sad probably have to do with what you've heard before . . . even if the cognition is subconscious (which is another subject, I suppose).
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Los Angeles

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    I think it largely depends on what instrument(s) you are using. I suppose for Metheny B-flat minor on the guitar is saddest. If you're talking about string orchestra, then you're D minor is going to be brighter than, say, F-minor, so maybe that would lead you to think the F-minor is sadder than D minor. But I think psycho-acoustics is more complex than that. For me, I think E-flat minor would make for a pretty sad adagio, whereas I find D major to be the most uplifting.

  5. #5

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    I think a flat miner is the saddest, especially after a piano is dropped down a mine shaft.


  6. #6

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    I think that the skill of the composer and performer is far more important than what key it is in. That being said, perhaps the happiest key is Db minor, since D flat miner got up and walked away in spite of the piano being dropped on him.

  7. #7

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    Firstly as many said, IMO emotion is about perception and depends on how we are conditioned.

    I do not think the root of a key has any influence on the mood of the music (or at least minimal). Transposing Jingle Bells up or down would not make it more sad or happy. Changing the mode will change the music's mood.

    It is generally said that a minor key has a sadder mood than a major. It is not true IMO that Am is the same as C just because they are both played on the same keys (white keys). The Am will have a different mood because it use the A as the root or pedal sound. The chrdal changes that usually are associated with a minor key will be different, which leads me to think that the progression (chords) is the next most important factor.

    Rhythm, phrasing and tempo plays the greatest part. A song by Black Sabath in E minor do not have the same emotional impact for me than a Em played by Eric Clapton. A song in C maj can be just as sad and emotional (e.g. Steve Ray Vaughn's Taxas Flood).

    [Edit: correction, it was actually SRV's Sky is crying I was thinking 'bout that was written in C maj, still a very sad song]

  8. #8

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    Great topic!

    I like E minor when writing for orchestra and A minor for piano.
    With E minor for orchestra, you can get great root notes with the double basses. Allthough the GPO basses go all the way down to C, E is the last clear note, IMO.
    Same with piano. You can get some really cool effects with that low, low A supporting a giant chord.

    And F major for the happiest key, 'cause the entire orchestra agrees with it. The only people who might complain are the Eb instruments, but they'll just have to live with two sharps.
    Again, F major has that nice petal note in the double basses.
    Oooh, that low F gives me chills when I hear it!

    So that's my two keys I compose in.


  9. #9

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?


    No such thing. As a matter of fact... minor does not mean sad and major does not mean happy. No one can say what emotion a listener will feel when hearing a particular piece.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  10. #10

    Re: Emotional Key Signatures?

    Minor keys are my favorite, because I think they're more flexible than major keys. Sure, you can get a whole range of dark emotions out of a minor tune -- sadness, apprehension, peril, -- but you can also squeeze a happy tune out of a minor key, if you do it properly (God rest ye merry, Gentlemen, for example).

    My favorite key is g-minor, 'cause it's easy to play on the lute.
    -- Jeff Lee
    Etiam singula minima maximi momenti est - Even the smallest detail is of the utmost importance

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