Why do major scales sound happier than minor ones?

Why does a major scale sound happier than a minor scale to music listeners?

CBC Radio One’s Quirks & Quarks asked Michael Schutz, an Assistant Professor of Music Cognition and director of the MAPLE Lab, to help answer that question.

Schutz explains that there are a couple of different factors that affect the way we hear music. In the Western world, major scales tend to be associated with songs that have a happier emotional feel to them while songs primarily composed in a minor scale are considered more somber or sad.

“Part of the reason that they sound right to us is because we experience them frequently,” explains Schutz. “If you turn on the radio in the car, or walk into a coffee shop or go to a concert. We hear a lot of them.”

Schutz says researchers have also studied why Western musical scales were created the way they were. Researchers have found a strong relationship between the peaks in the frequency of human speech and the intervals between notes in major and minor scales. “There’s an interesting relationship between music and language.”

Get the whole explanation by listening to the Quirks & Quarks podcast available on the CBC website. Schutz’s section begins at 57 minutes.

Podcast Link: http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/podcasts/quirks/index.html

Quirks & Quarks: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts/quirks/index.html