Most (if not all) western people would describe a single major chord as happy and a minor one as sad. But I've heard that this is very subjective thing and that in some cultures these associations don't apply per se. So you could say, music sounds happy/sad because you believe it does.

Is it possible to deliberately change the emotional response you get when you hear different chords? I know that in a chord progression context you can make certain chords give a different feel than they normally would. But I mean on a more fundamental level.

  • I think this is going to be attracting opinionated answers, which isn't what you ask for. Even the happy/sad is subjective and may well vary day to day with individuals. Some of which will have rather different views to 'minor evokes sadness', etc. Even the volume and instrumental make-up of a chord will vary its response.
    – Tim
    Jul 1, 2021 at 12:55
  • 1
    I’m voting to close this question because it isn't really a question about music practice or theory; it's a question about whether one can re-train a culturally conditioned response to an isolated stimulus. It's a psychology or sociology question that happens to be asked in a musical context.
    – Aaron
    Jul 1, 2021 at 13:14
  • What is the mechanism behind the supposed cultural conditioning? Play major chord, show happy face, play minor chord, show sad face? It's hard to believe that such a thing had happened to me before I tried playing a major and minor chord on the piano for the first time, and it was like a night and day difference between the feelings. I think that these cultural conditioning believers just aren't very sensitive to harmony. ;) Jul 1, 2021 at 13:57
  • Does this answer your question? Why do minor keys sound “sad”? Jul 1, 2021 at 14:42
  • 2
    Voted to reopen. Whilst I do of course agree that any answers are going to have to deal with the subjective, identifying subjective emotional responses to certain patterns of sound is an important part of music theory - we talk about tension and resolution all the time, for example. If music works on the basis of culturally-conditioned responses, then we need to be able to talk about that on this site. Jul 1, 2021 at 21:15

1 Answer 1


Most (if not all) western people would describe a single major chord as happy and a minor one as sad.

Not really. But it doesn't matter, because music isn't just a single chord with all other musical aspects apparently regarded as unimportant. And that gets to the main question...

Can you change emotional response to the same type of chords?

Yes, with other musical aspects beside the chords. Tempo and rhythm probably being at the top of the list of importance. Timbre will matter too. Melodic aspects and range (high/low pitch) will matter a lot too.

A good example is Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The open winds play an E major chord slowly. Then when the strings play next the chords switches to E minor and rhythm becomes fast. While the slow winds in major certainly don't sound "sad", "happy" isn't the first word that comes to mind as a description. "Peaceful" might be a good description. When the fast strings play, "sad" certainly isn't the word to describe it. It's "exciting" and "light."

  • We need "angry" (and maybe "anxious"? Fits your answer better) to be a default reaction for minor chords along with "sad".
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 2, 2021 at 12:07
  • @Dekkadeci, I don't think so. Those kind of emotional descriptions should be applied to specific compositions or performances. Applying such descriptions to something as broad as minor is pointless. It's too broad to be of any really use other than explaining major/minor to a complete noob. Jul 2, 2021 at 15:30
  • Maybe it's the music I listen to more often (which is mainly fast instrumental music, regardless of genre), but every time I see questions like this one that call minor chords "sad", I keep wondering why the question asker didn't consider "angry" as an option instead. Anger seems like a pretty basic emotion to apply to music, even simple music like minor chords.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 3, 2021 at 14:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.