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Apr 13

How Music Keys Change Emotion

This post is part of our series on audio branding knowledge.

Emotion is one of the things that music can most effectively manage. When you hear happy sounding music you instantly change your mood. Of course this has many health benifits, but as a merketer this ability can have an impact on your bottom line too.

Music in the Western world is based on a system known as the “Equal Tempered” system. What this means is that musicians and composers have 12 notes to play with. Certain combinations of these 12 notes sound good together and other combinations don’t. In an overly simplistic way, the combination of notes that “fit” together are known as keys.

Keys are the foundation of many songs we hear on the radio and the silver screen. There are two standard keys that most songs are based on, major and minor. Both types of keys have a group of seven notes that are part of the key (or scale). Playing notes that are inside the key generally sound good, but playing notes outside the key can sound awful even to the most untrained ears.

Here’s the thing, major and minor keys have a completely differnt sound and carry different emotions too. Major keys tend to be happier and upbeat, where minor keys sound sad and use a slower tempo. Understanding this will affect what song you pick for your next commercial.

As a demonstration have a listen to the original version of “Hey Jude” by The Beatles.

Now, listen to a digitally altered version of “Hey Jude”. This version has been changed to a minor key.

By changing the key of the song to a minor key you can hear the difference and you can feel the emotional change too!

Action steps:

  • Try to determine if a song is major or minor
  • Listen to the emotion. Does it change in different parts of the song?
headphonesSM1 How Music Keys Change Emotion
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 How Music Keys Change Emotion

About Jordan Stevens | Audio Brand Consultant at TreBrand


Almost born with a guitar in his hands Jordan Stevens has been instrumental in inspiring brands to stand out and be heard. His music has been performed internationally and on the silver screen including a premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Toronto International Film Festival.

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