This is an absolutely fantastic question!! I saw this and thought “wow, good thought!”
I actually don’t really know – I think it is probably partly to do with what we have been told to associate with certain things from birth (conditioning), but I do also think there may be something deeper and more innate about this. Like why did the first few people just know it was sad and decide this and get everyone else to agree?
There are a lot of cultural differences between what we percieve as “sad” music or not. In the Western world we always attach sentiment and gravity to minor keys – so we are sort of preconditioned to hear them that way and associate them with sad emotions. Interestingly Asian and African music is, on the whole, opposite to this – the traditional key for the Nigerian martial anthems is minor and most Japanese couples are married to a traditional piece of music called ‘Fo Rki Ngraoul’ – which apparently would sound so sad to us we would think that we are at a funeral!!
Apparently it may have something to do with “dissonance” – I’m not actually really sure what this is but you could look it up!
Hi Bridget. I think at its root this is a question of language. Different cultures do identify different musical cords as happy or sad. It seems to correlate with how we vocalize our emotions through language. For example when I get excited my pitch raises and I talk fast – that is something reflected in the way western music relates excitement!! But other cultures might not have the same expressions.