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People typically associate major chords with happy music and minor chords with sad music; however, this association varies depending on whether you were raised around Western music or not. Studies have demonstrated this fact.
The root note
A chord’s sound depends heavily on its root note. A simple major chord formed of the first, third and fifth notes in any scale is generally perceived by Western adults and children to be happy-sounding; by lowering this chord by just one semitone (one white or black key to the left), however, people typically perceive a minor chord which they hear as melancholic or saddening.
This occurs because our minds tend to associate wider intervals with being brighter; that is, major chord’s major third and perfect fifth are perceived as having larger sounding intervals compared with minor chord’s minor third and imperfect fifths.
Though this theory holds, it’s essential to keep context in mind when discussing musical emotion. Still, having an understanding of how chords influence an instrument’s soundscape can help guitarists better evoke various types of feelings with their instrument – this video offers plenty of examples on how this works.
The major third
A major third is an interval that creates the sound of happiness in chords. To play one, count up four frets from the root note and find the next note up by either a large whole step (C to D) or small half step (C to E).
Substituting this with a minor third, however, changes the chord to sound sadder than before. Although this might seem counterintuitive at first, this effect stems from our perceptions of wider intervals as being brighter than smaller ones.
Researchers believe this to be the reason major chords sound joyful, yet researchers have yet to ascertain if this theory holds for everyone. A recent Plos One study tested this theory by playing both major and minor chords and melodies to residents from five remote communities in Papua New Guinea as well as both musicians and non-musicians based in Sydney; results demonstrated that participants found major music more pleasant regardless of prior exposure to Western musical scales or their associated emotions.
The perfect fifth
Chords are more than a collection of notes; each chord has its own sound and emotion associated with it. Major chords often evoke feelings of happiness or joy while minor chords tend to invoke feelings of melancholy or sadness.
The difference in sound between these two chords can be explained by their constituent intervals; specifically, their perfect fifth interval – this creates a feeling of stability and resolution which makes for happier chords.
To create a minor chord, all it takes is lowering the third by half step so it reads as 1-b3-5. This gives it a dark and moody sound often used in songs intended to convey deep emotions such as sorrow or melancholy – however this doesn’t preclude its use in upbeat songs too – context is key!
Chord progressions have the power to excite, sadden, and relax listeners just as effectively as melody does – often more so! Chord progressions make songs memorable and have greater effects on emotional states than melody alone.
The mediant is a major triad that incorporates only partial notes from the harmonic series to create its happy-sounding melody, also known as supertonic because its height above tonic mirrors that of subdominant below tonic.
The mediant is often overlooked by songwriters and plays only an incidental role, yet its use can greatly enhance any minor chord by adding major intervals such as adding minor 2nds on top of it – this gives songs composed by John Williams such as those found on movie soundtracks a melancholy, more melancholic feel that works wonderfully in their composition.