Is D Minor Really the Saddest of All Keys?

Historically, classical composers felt that D minor was the most melancholy of the keys, suitable for lamentations, dirges and requiems.

Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel thought so too, choosing the key for his musical trilogy “Lick My Love Pump.” “I don’t know why,” he remarks in Rob Reiner’s 1984 film, This Is Spinal Tap, “but it makes people weep instantly.”

But do different keys really sound different?

That’s what Adam Neely wanted to know. He observed that, historically, composers have felt that the different keys convey unique emotional states. But even if they did, he conjectures, does that still hold up for modern music?

For example, he notes, 18th-century German composer Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart wrote a musical treatise on the different keys in which he said Eb minor reflected “feelings of anxiety of all the soul’s deepest distress.”

“But why would a song like Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ be in the key of Eb minor when it sounds so joyous and ebullient?” Adam wonders.

In this video, Adam explores this and many other questions about keys in his search to determine whether or not they have different emotional and musical meanings. He offers a historical perspective on tuning that explains how keys have lost some of their unique characteristics over time.

So, he suggests, maybe there are differences between the keys in our modern tuning system, “it’s just that the differences are a little bit more subtle and maybe not as universal as you might think.”

Or maybe it just comes down to something else unique to the individual instrument.

“It might not be possible to put these feelings into words,” Adam concludes, “but being familiar with these differences between keys will go a long way to the mastery of music and the mastery of your instrument.”

Take a look. It’s a fascinating perspective.

Adam offers a new video every Monday, so be sure to check out his YouTube channel for more.

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