A Rant on the Psychology of Music Scales

I’m no psychologist nor music expert, but I’ve always been fascinated by the evolution of theoretical music and how today we have such variety in forms and architecture of harmonic acoustics.  Moreover, I’ve developed a keen interest into the connotations we’ve assigned to different-sounding rhythm and melody. Are our preferences solely a result of our culture and what we grew up hearing? Or is there inherent reasoning behind why, in the western world, we associate “minor” music as being “sad” and “major” music as being “happy?”

As children in America, we are taught that when we hear doleful-sounding tunes the song will most definitely be in a minor key, and likewise, when we hear a major-scale song, we’re expected to experience uplifting and rousing emotion.  Obviously, however, this is not the case everywhere in the world.  Foreign music, particularly of the eastern and northern cultures, is hallmarked by its beautiful, and sometimes upbeat, minor-scale compositions.

Truth be told, many kinds of minor-scale music that musicologists have studies are indeed solemn, like the joik of the Sami people, the chants of the Native Americans, or the famous European chants of Gregorian and Benedictine eras for example.  But why, so often, do we identify with this kind of music structure as being sad?  Why were dirges and requiems written in minor keys and wedding songs began being written in major keys? This can’t merely be a consequence of selective cultural adaptation … surely there must be actual socio-psychological reasoning behind these western world developments.

Could it, perhaps, lie in the fact that minor scales “fall short” of our inclinations toward musical resolution? For my music nerd friends, it’s a common truism that the third scale degree of any minor key is a primary part-player in this hypothesis. I wish I had answers, but Tom Service of The Guardian only asks more questions: 

"So which came first, the sad minor third in music or the sad minor third in speech? Have centuries of music in minor keys conditioned us to the sound of sadness, or has music through the ages drawn from the cadences of our speech and heightened its emotional power?"

I am not seeking to answer questions immediately, but this has always been an interest of mine. The family of contemporary minor scales are descendants of the most ancient breed of musical structure, and I personally find it to be the most beautiful … and by beautiful, I mean powerful.  I grew up in Africa where, from a young age, I was surrounded with powerful music that I learned later was primarily built on minor pentatonic scales.  To this day, I enjoy listening to Hebrew, Middle Eastern, and even Far Eastern music simply for their evocation and power.

Think of your favorite movie scores and symphonies … nearly all will feature, and many be based on, minor keys.  Even songs that we’ve always associated as being proud and beautiful the way they are can, in fact, be just as powerful when translated to a minor key.  In fact, this has become a hobby of mine … I play instruments (primarily piano and guitar) by ear, so I enjoy switching up the qualities of many of my favorite songs.

Consider this famous viral video going around on Youtube right now — produced by Chase Holfelder, it is a rendition of the American National Anthem (mostly) into a minor key.  Some may find it disrespectful, but upon experience, it’s hard to argue the new qualities this famous song is given are no less powerful. Watch the video here.

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Meanwhile, from another perspective, you might think that a minor-sounding key changed to a major key would, well, sound happy.  Perhaps such a song would sound nicer after a while of listening to it, but with a song as familiar as - say - Fur Elise, it may actually sound incredibly strange and perhaps even eerie at first. Consider this little sample I created (here) of what Fur Elise might sound like in A major, as opposed to A minor. Is it really all that … happy?  Or is emotional response to acoustic melody a falsified trigger?

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I’m not really here to answer my own questions yet, but this subject is just something that has fascinated me for a long time and I guess I’m ranting on it hoping to get others curious as well … and here the opinion of those already curious about the whacky world of theoretical music.

Have a snazztastic day, bloggity buddies.

Ambition

I have ambition to write a novel, read a hundred others, produce a professional music album, script and shoot a short film, become proficient at cooking and grow a quick hand at chess.

But I only have the actual motivation to work my day job, file income taxes, buy milk at the grocery store, and stare at the stars.

Miss The Stars

The chorus from one of my recent songs, “Miss the Stars”:

I can’t look into your eyes without asking you are
I can’t hold your hand and know you won’t let go
I can’t watch the new sun rise and never miss the stars
If only I could look at you and know

Just a Spoonful of Puns

Mary Poppins was on Craigslist selling stuff from her San Diego summer home in hopes to get female deer quieting devices in exchange. A seller named Allie had a great selection of these devices but wasn’t interested in Poppin’s offers.

It’s just a shame that such

Super California listings expect Allie’s Doe Shush.

egregiousrecursion
acquaintedwithrask:

strampunkgear:

foreverdisneynerd:

For Atlantis, Disney needed a new language for the Atlantean people. To do this, Disney hired Mark Okrand, the man who also created the famous Klingon and Vulcan for the Star Trek series. In the Atlantean language, Mark Okrand’s main source for it’s roots and stems of its words are Proto-Indo-European,but as Okrand also described it as being the “tower of babel” or “root dialect” for all languages in the world, he also used ancient Chinese, Latin, Greek, Biblical Hebrew, along with many other ancient languages or their reconstructions. As such, you can actually learn to write and speak the language!

This film is so underrated it hurts.

ah this explains how they understood french and english so well almost instantly… better than the magical wind in Pocahontas that’s for sure

acquaintedwithrask:

strampunkgear:

foreverdisneynerd:

For Atlantis, Disney needed a new language for the Atlantean people. To do this, Disney hired Mark Okrand, the man who also created the famous Klingon and Vulcan for the Star Trek series. In the Atlantean language, Mark Okrand’s main source for it’s roots and stems of its words are Proto-Indo-European,but as Okrand also described it as being the “tower of babel” or “root dialect” for all languages in the world, he also used ancient Chinese, Latin, Greek, Biblical Hebrew, along with many other ancient languages or their reconstructions. As such, you can actually learn to write and speak the language!

This film is so underrated it hurts.

ah this explains how they understood french and english so well almost instantly… better than the magical wind in Pocahontas that’s for sure

So Long Takahata?

With the retirement of Isao Takahata, the imaginative director of Castle in the Sky, may come an end to the golden age of Studio Ghibli. Takahata walks in the shadow of his esteemed partner Hayao Miyazaki, but both men have dedicated their lives to the beauty of animated motion picture. We can only hope these two great dreamers continue sharing their imaginations with us even after their departure from Studio Ghibli.


May dreams continue to be dreamt, and the magic of Takahata and Miyazaki continue yet!

Check out this article about Takahata’s latest and possibly last film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/cool_japan/culture/AJ201311200012

"Frozen" Soundtrack Fun Fact

Being the amateur ethnomusicologist and soundtrack junkie I am, here’s a little known fact about the Frozen soundtrack: the very first song you hear at the beginning of the movie, “Vuelie” a capella, is in fact an adaptation of a composition by Frode Fjellheim of Norway. His piece, entitled “Cantus Eatnemen Vuelie,” is actually an arrangement of a famous Martin Luther hymn combined with Norwegian folk music motives.

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The more you know.

Have a listen to Fjellheim’s original work. You won’t be disappointed:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxiB43Ez4qQ