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From the 15th to 18th of last July, I was in a music education camp in Alpensia Resort of Pyeongchang. On the 17th, a masterclass teacher taught this to me and all of the other students, while working on the analysis of Schumann's Widmung.

In a lot of styles of music, we have a nearly-universal tradition that major = "happy" and minor = "sad".

For example, in Schumann's Widmung,

Schumann uses major quality when the lyrics go "You my joy", and then he uses minor quality in "O you my sadness."

Major = happy, minor = sad

So, why was it traditional that major = "happy" while minor = "sad"?

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    Of course this is a pretty well-established convention (heavily culture-dependent), but I fail to see, how it has significance or even historical significance. I'm pretty sure, that there are counter-examples. Without a song text to consider the categorization of the mood can become demanding and I can't imagine, that composers considered it as a strict rule. – guidot Oct 29 at 11:48
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    @guidot the most famous example I can think of this The Hora which is a very happy celebration song in a minor key. – Dom Oct 29 at 17:13
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    A rollback war auto flag was raised on this question so I've locked it for a week while you figure out the exact wording you want to use for this question. – Dom Nov 2 at 21:48
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+100

If we are applying ourselves to the tradition that "major = happy" while "minor = sad", then here are the "reasons":

If two wavelengths of one sound line up with three wavelengths of another, the sounds are a fifth apart. If it's 3:4, it's a fourth. These sounds are still harmonious to us even though not as much as the octave sound. This is why they are 'perfect fifths' and 'perfect fourths'. 4:5 gives us a major third, 5:6 gives us a minor third, 6:7 gives us something between a minor third and a major second (which we usually approximate to a minor third) and 7:8 does the same (which we usually approximate to a major second). Beyond that the intervals are no longer really harmonious enough for our ears to pick them up, and they just sound clashy. So because a minor third is more clashy than a major third, we perceive it as a little more off and this can translate into sad. [source: reddit]

Furthermore, the harmonic ratios of a major triad is 4:5:6, while 10:12:15 is for a minor triad. In a major key, the tonic triad is a major triad, while in a minor key, the tonic triad is minor.

Therefore, during the old days, it was interpreted as major keys were "happy", while minor keys were "sad." However, this has been rendered obsolete; therefore, this is rather based on people's opinions today, and are in fact not universal at all.

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