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Emotional Secrets in Musical Constructs

Dr. T. V. Sairam

Right from the days of Plato, music is known for its healing role, though only of late – from the world war aftermaths, music has turned into an exclusive discipline called ‘music therapy’. When we talk of emotion, we all know that music may sound joyful, sad or angry depending on its contents and tempo. For the purpose of this article, we would analyse the sadness in a musical structure.

Emotion plays an important role in our music appreciation. It is the emotion in music which makes it attractive and habit-forming for the listeners. The emotion in music is also known to heal its listeners from their various mental problems and deficiencies for centuries. Right from the days of Plato, music is known for its healing role, though only of late – from the world war aftermaths, music has turned into an exclusive discipline called ‘music therapy’.

When we talk of emotion, we all know that music may sound joyful, sad or angry depending on its contents and tempo. For the purpose of this article, we would analyse the sadness in a musical structure. Let us take the piano music to understand this aspect of music which emits sadness.

Secret of Sadness found in Music
The Western world for very long time that it is the intervals that decide the impact of music. We have three forms: major chords, minor chords and also diminished chords which affect our emotional experience. For instance sadness is reflected in minor chords of the piano. They are usually termed as the “melancholic cousins of the major chords”. The minor chords are long known for their tonal impact. They sound quite sad even as you practise these chords in your piano or guitar! They sound introvert and mellow as compared to the major chords. The great composers of the western world have therefore,  made us of their emotional impact and produced innumerable masterpieces which are the sweetest songs that tell of saddest thoughts. Further, it is the minor third intervals in the minor chords that sound more introvert and mellow. 

Theoretically, every major chord is built out of a major third and a small third.  The minor chords are built the other way round. They are formed by a minor 3rd and a major 3rd on top of it. So, you basically switch the order of the major chords to create the required sobriety! For instance, C Major is constituted by C, E and G, where as C Minor is formed by C, Eb and G so as to add a tinge of melancholy!

Apart from this, we also have in the western system, what we call as “diminished chord” which also enhances such a mood-changing impact. For instance, let us again take the example of C Major. When we intentionally diminish both the middle note of the chord (E in C major) and the upper note the chord (G in C Major) in half a tone, we form a diminished chord. The result of this effort by pianists is that they are able to create the unstable chord, containing lots of tension which can easily affect the listener’s mind. Thus C Diminished chord is formed by C-Eb and Gb, that is two small 3rds (Eb and Gb) close to each other, producing intense feelings.

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