While there are lots of emotions that can be expressed through music in lots of different ways, we are going to talk about the most basic and general two… Happy and sad. One of music’s most powerful tools is heightening or even changing people emotions. A great example of this is in film. Imagine watching a movie without music. It would suck right? When the main character dies at the end of the movie, the music is ‘sad’ which makes us feel that emotion.
On the other hand, when the good guy wins, the music is happy which makes us feel more happy. So the question is, how and why does music sound like an emotion? The first question to ask is, what characteristics make music sound happy or sad? From research, and to be honest, just general knowledge, the main element that makes music happy or sad is it’s mode (key). There are many different modes, but the most common in western music are the ionian (major) and aeolian (minor) scales. The major key is known as the happy scale, and the minor scale is known as the sad scale. But why is this?
Music isn’t a universal language. What I mean by this is that it isn’t fact or a certain thing such as math. This suggests that there is no real scientific reason to why music can sound happy or sad and although people have theories involving the things like the harmonic series and soundwaves. The real reason behind music’s emotion is perception. This perception has been ingrained into our brains over centuries of music making and listening.
So far we have only been talking about harmony in western music, whereas there is music from all around the world. Some music from around the world use completely different harmonic systems and play very different music in general. For example there are Hungarian scales that we might call minor scales, but they are not perceived as sad in their culture, rather they are heard as happy. There are other examples of this in other parts of the world too, including Asia and Africa. This is evidence that the emotion of music is in it’s perception rather than science and fact.