What makes some musical tunes cheerful and some sad?
London: Scientists at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina have revealed why tunes in major keys such as ‘Singin`` in the Rain``, sound cheerful, while those in minor keys – like Pink Floyd``s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’— sound gloomy and depressing.
The researcher said that it is partly because the patterns of pitches in major keys mirror those of excited speech, whereas minor keys parallel-subdued speech.
This suggests that language shaped our musical expression of emotion.
Several factors affect music``s sentimental influence, like a fast, loud, jumpy rhythm sounds happy because it reflects the way an excited person behaves, and slow, quiet music with a regular beat mimics a mournful emotional state.
But, what researchers could not understand is why tunes in major keys tend to sound cheerful, whereas those in minor keys sound sad.
"This is an age-old problem in music theory," New Scientist quoted Dr. Daniel Bowling, a neuroscientist at Duke, as saying.
He suspected emotional speech patterns might be behind the link.
Thus, the researchers first measured the distribution of tones in around 7500 western classical melodies and Finnish folk tunes in both major and minor keys.
They found, for instance, that minor thirds – with the melody note pitched three semitones above the tune``s keynote – made up 15 per cent of tones in minor pieces, but unsurprisingly made up less than 1 per cent of tones in major pieces.
The researchers then compared these musical intervals with those between important tonal frequencies in spoken vowelsMovie Camera uttered by American English speakers in either excited or subdued voices.
Their speech samples came from ten volunteers who were recorded reading various monologues, including animated accounts of winning the lottery and morose descriptions of failing marriages.
As expected, the frequency relationships in excited speech closely matched those of music in major keys, while those of forlorn speech matched minor music.
Bowling added that his team found the same association for Mandarin Chinese speakers, suggesting the link is common to different cultures, if not universal.
"This makes a good case that it has biological roots," he said.
The study has been published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
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