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Can You Make a Happy Song Sad?

1,540 reviews


Areas of Science
Time Required
Average (6-10 days)
You should know how to convert a simple song from a major key to a minor key, or know an experienced musician or music teacher who can help you with the conversions.
Material Availability
Readily available
Very Low (under $20)
No issues
*Note: For this science project you will need to develop your own experimental procedure. Use the information in the summary tab as a starting place. If you would like to discuss your ideas or need help troubleshooting, use the Ask An Expert forum. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions and offer guidance if you come to them with specific questions.

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Are there some songs that always make you feel sad when you hear them? How about "Scarborough Fair," George Gershwin's "Summertime," or the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby"? All of these songs are in a minor key. Minor keys have more intervals, or halftones, than major keys do. Some musicologists (people who study music) maintain that minor-key songs are more likely to be perceived as sad, while major-key songs are more likely to be interpreted as happy. You can research the competing explanations about why this would be true. But do you think the statement is accurate? Do songs in a minor key seem sadder than those in a major key? You can conduct your own research to find out by playing or singing the same songs (or recording and playing back later) in a major and a minor key. If you don't know how to convert a song from one type of key to another, ask a more experienced musician or a music teacher for help. Have your audience fill out a survey about how happy or sad they feel each version of the song is. For help designing your survey, read the Science Buddies guide to Designing a Survey.


This website offers an introduction to what makes a sad song seem sad:

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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Can You Make a Happy Song Sad?" Science Buddies, 23 June 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Music_p018/music/perception-happy-song-sad. Accessed 7 June 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, June 23). Can You Make a Happy Song Sad? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Music_p018/music/perception-happy-song-sad

Last edit date: 2020-06-23
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