Why Does Some Music Sound Sad?

Music may seem to bring up negative associations, yet its emotionality can actually help lift your spirits and evoke some powerful memories. While this might seem counterintuitive, this study raises some interesting questions.

One possible explanation for the hedonic appeal of sad music could involve culturally associated meanings like honour, virtue, beauty and righteousness; another could involve empathic connections with people’s suffering.


Music has an intense connection to our emotions, and can significantly alter our moods. Listening to different songs can change how we feel regardless of our state of mind – from happy or sad. Some even use music therapy as a treatment method for mental health conditions; researchers have discovered how rhythm and melody of songs affect us emotionally, which explains why certain pieces might seem sad while others find them beautiful.

Music’s tempo, scale, harmony progression and timbre all have different impacts on emotions and culture. Empathic response to music can be activated when instruments sounding similar to human voices are played – which explains why violins and cellos are frequently used when creating sad music pieces. Furthermore, certain percussion instruments may cause people to cry during performances.

Another factor contributing to sad music is when it’s played in a minor key, with its low tones creating a melancholy atmosphere and stirring up emotions like anger or grief. Though difficult for listeners, such music may help people who are depressed or anxious.

Other reasons why some music sounds sad include its slow pace, dark lyrics, and sense of loss – these elements can leave us feeling downcast and alone. Additionally, sad music may evoke painful memories associated with past experiences – for instance it could remind someone of an impending breakup or death from someone close.

Prolactin, the hormone produced when listening to music that induces sadness, acts like an natural stress-reliever while also providing comforting benefits – meaning sad music can become enjoyable as it acts like an imaginary friend consoling us through it all.

Studies have demonstrated that sad music produces more complex emotional responses than upbeat tunes, including happiness, anger, fear, anxiety and sadness. Furthermore, sad songs typically feature deeper lyrical lines with longer lyrics to engage listeners fully with its meaning and experience its depth.


Music can evoke strong emotional responses that may not always be pleasant; its effects often carry a negative valence. Positive emotions have long been associated with pleasure while negative ones often produce displeasure; yet some evidence exists to show both types of valence can bring enjoyment, perhaps explaining this paradox by the fact that enjoying sad music often brings feelings of connectedness and empathy among listeners.

This relationship is partially facilitated by music’s capacity to simulate and process emotional experiences in a safe environment. Certain musical elements that mimic lamentations has been shown to elicit both empathy and pleasure from listeners; perhaps because these elements resemble human vocal tracts and trigger emotional contagion.

Musical characteristics such as rhythm, pitch, timbre and dynamics all help express emotions through musical form. Fast music in a major mode tends to produce feelings of happiness while slow music in minor mode can often evoke sadness; however, researchers have yet to provide an explanation as to how these characteristics interact with each other or with variables like mood and personality to create pleasurable musical experiences for listeners.

Studies have also demonstrated that listening to sad music helps regulate our emotions and distract us from unpleasant thoughts or emotions, providing comfort when times get tough.

One factor contributing to the enjoyment of sad music is that its arrangements tend to be less dense than other genres, using lower notes and dynamics than other musical styles – this gives sad songs an aura of fragility that makes people feel vulnerable even when they aren’t feeling particularly miserable; perhaps this explains why some listen to sad songs after experiencing loss or other hardship.


Music’s vocals often sound mournful for various reasons. Perhaps our brain’s response to sounds similar to speech may play a part; or maybe certain sounds evoke certain emotions in us. Whatever the reason may be, no doubt the success of any song in making us weep depends heavily on its voice.

Tempo is also essential to creating an atmosphere of depression; the rhythm should match up with an individual’s pulse (usually 60 BPM) in order to convey this sensation of desolation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean slow and monotonous music is best; fast tempo may create more excitement among listeners and generate a positive feeling in them.

Use of different notes can alter how a piece of music sounds; for instance, minor-key melodies tend to sound melancholic while major-key melodic progressions have more positive associations. This is due to how musical pieces’ keys determine which chords they use and their use during performance.

Singing requires using various techniques in order to produce the perfect voice for each song or emotion, including altering pitch, using vibrato, adding harmony and prolonging notes for extended periods. “With or Without You” by U2 serves as an excellent example of how slow songs with harmonies can sound heartbreaking, moving listeners to tears.

Huron, Anderson and Shanahan’s study demonstrated that instruments best capable of conveying sadness were those that could manipulate timbre, pitch, loudness and articulation in ways which mimicked and exaggerated those features associated with vocal expression of sorrow. Unfortunately, due to correlations between these acoustic features (mumbling, dark timbre and lowest pitch) and this capability – it remains uncertain whether these features truly capture what makes instruments capable of producing sad vocal expression.


Music can have an emotional effect that extends far beyond simply stirring up specific feelings in us. Songs that make us cry may also give us a sense of connection with the artist or listeners – though this might not always be pleasant, it could be one reason we listen to sad music.

As well as how a song makes us feel, its lyrics play an integral role in whether or not we find it pleasing. This is particularly true for music with deep meaning such as mournful ballads that can have an antidepressant effect when listeners are experiencing difficulties or sadness in their lives.

Music known to induce the release of dopamine neurotransmitter has long been shown to increase feelings of pleasure and reward, lifting low mood. This effect is further magnified if music evokes pleasant memories or is performed by someone whom we respect and admire.

Studies have also demonstrated the correlation between music’s emotional impact on our minds – such as happiness, anger or fear – and physical and psychological responses we experience. For example, listening to an angry song can cause our heart rate to increase while hearing mournful ballads can decrease breathing rates and blood pressure levels.

These strong reactions stem from our strong connection with music. Our emotional and physiological responses to it reflect our personal histories, cultures, and interactions within our world – often making for unexpected but often rewarding responses that help us connect with people around us and form stronger connections to life itself.

Though we may understand why some music may seem sad, it remains difficult to comprehend why others might be pleasurable. This is likely because music’s pleasure depends on many different factors ranging from tempo and mode to timbre and chord progression; future research may provide further answers; for now though it seems that listening to sad music remains very subjective and personal experience.