What’s the saddest song you know? Is it Strange FruitThe RiverBlue Shadows In The Street, or Seven Curses? There’s always Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor. What makes a song sound sad? For those of you who haven’t had any music theory classes in a while, sad music usually consists of intervals of a minor third (C major to E flat is an example) and we sort of take for granted that it somehow sounds sad. Megan Curtis, a scientist at Tufts University, has linked the sadness we find in music to the sadness we find in sad speech. Even if you erase the words and leave just the melody of the speaker’s voice, people can tell that what’s being said is “sad” from the movement of the sound of the speakers voice. These musical movements work in perfect ratios, so its fairly easy to correlate them to speech patterns. You can listen to some of the recordings from her experiment here.

The connection here points to a chicken and egg question: Did speech influence sad music or did sad music influence speech? Evolutionary Musicologist Steven Brown suggests that a common word/music ancestor known as “Musilanguage” might be the answer to explaining this strange connection.
But what about languages other than English? What about non-Western music? Studies are forthcoming. In the meantime, read this awesome book about how you’re hearing lots of classical music all wrong. Sucker.

 


 

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  • Jenni Wiltz

    The saddest song I know is unquestionably Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.”  Full-on tears, first listen.  Guaranteed.