Skip to main content

Why Do Major Chords Sound "Happy"?

(Image credit: Pexels.com)

Have you ever wondered why major chords sound “happy” and minor chords sound “sad”?

According to guitar instructor Adam Neely, it all comes down to intervals.

“It has a lot to do with the concept of brightness—relative sizes of intervals and how we psychologically perceive larger intervals to be ‘brighter’,” he says.

In this video, Adam takes you through his theory, and it’s pretty fascinating.

“Brightness can be defined as the relative size of the intervals within a particular chord or a scale,” he explains.

“Wider intervals are perceived as being brighter than smaller intervals. So major chords with their major 3rd are brighter that minor chords with their minor third.

“Under this basic definition of brightness, augmented chords are brighter than major chords because they have a wider 5th-the augmented fifth-as compared to major chords’ perfect fifth.”

Things really get interesting when Adam begins to explore the modes and their inversions. It gets a little heady—there’s some theory involved here—but Adam keeps things clear, and his music demonstrations illustrate the concepts nicely.

Check this out, and visit Adam’s YouTube page for more videos.

Photo: Pexels.com

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Christopher Scapelliti
Christopher Scapelliti

Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player (opens in new tab) magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World (opens in new tab), a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.