Can a Key Be the Saddest Key Key in the World? #MusicMonday

In a movie full of amazing bits, Nigel’s D-minor is “the saddest of all keys” bit in This is Spinal Tap is a quietly funny moment. But is it true? Recently a quantitative analyst over at Rolling Stone set out to prove Nigel right. But what does a practicing musician and music theorist think? First he plays Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Bookie Wonderland and Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love, just to prove D-minor isn’t inherently sad, and he goes on from there. Here’s more from Ethan Hein:

let’s stipulate that minor keys do tend to be sadder in general than major ones. It is simply untrue that any particular minor key is sadder than any other. In twelve-tone equal temperament (12-TET), all the minor keys feel the same (as do all the major keys, and all the modal keys, and all the blues keys.) The keys are all at different absolute pitch heights, but absolute pitch doesn’t make a difference in musical meaning. The important thing in music is the ratios between the frequencies, and in 12-TET, those are all identical across keys, by definition. D minor is the same as D-flat minor the way that level three of a parking garage is the same as level four.

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