Happy or sad music is not universal

As a DJ in the West, you can be sure that you will get the dancers to the floor with a powerful song in “The Major”. And at funerals we make music in a “minor”.

The words ‘major’ and ‘secondary’ refer to the difference in the signature of the key. Mainly, there are four semitones between the first and third notes of the scale. In a minor key, that distance is much smaller, with three semitones between the first and third tones. The minor usually looks sad, and the major is happy.

When we enjoy concerts, we always feel that it is the “universal force of music” that similarly drags all the audience towards a throat block or dance steps.

But scientists are now finding that the influence of music is not universal. In a new study published in the journal PLUS ONE A team of Australian and German researchers has shown how people who live isolated from the Western world find music in the major not necessarily cheerful and in the minor not necessarily sad.

positive vibes

About 170 people from isolated cultures in the rainforests of Papua New Guinea were taught scales and melodies in minor and major. Then they had to select the person they thought looked “happy.” The researchers repeated the same experiment with sixty Australians and nineteen Australian musicians.

The result: Australian citizens and musicians clearly associated the major measures of joy much more than those in the secondary stage. But this turned out not to be the case in the group of people who had minimal exposure to Western music in their lifetime. Those who have never had contact with Western music before would not be happier with big-key, melancholy music with songs in a minor key.

One possible explanation is that music as a major is more common in our culture. We may experience this music as more positive simply because we hear it more often.

According to the researchers, what is also possible is that we associate context with music. Music is often played in a major key in the West in the course of pleasant events. It is possible that the positive feelings we attribute to music in a major discipline have to do with these happy circumstances. If you experience this pairing often enough, there’s a good chance that you’ll also experience those positive vibes in non-ceremonial places and moments specifically. Then it sounds like pure music to cheer up, but maybe it wasn’t.

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Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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