Written by Julia DuBois

Misery loves company, and sometimes the best company is with someone that you have never met, who’s singing a song that is just as sad as you are. None of us are immune to the feelings of sadness, so sometimes the best remedy is giving in and allowing yourself to feel the depth of these undesirable feelings. Although communicating the complexities of our sadness is oftentimes a true struggle, music can be helpful as a means of expressing and sharing these sorrowful sentiments. 

There are a variety of different reasons why music is an effective method for expressing sadness. One reason is because of associative memory. This concept evaluates how our lived experiences create emotional cues in our minds. Based on what we have been exposed to in our upbringings, we may be prompted to feel specific emotions as a response to specific situations. For example, when watching TV shows and movies, the sad scenes are often signaled with music that is slow and somber. This allows the audience to have a better understanding of the tone and emotions involved with that moment. These signals then carry over to our experiences with music. Since there has been a conditioning that slow, low pitched, and relaxed sounds are associated with sad moments, then as a result when we hear music that inhibits these same qualities, we can understand that they are communicating sadness. 

The sad signifiers that we are exposed to throughout our daily lives also play a large role in composing music, and can be referred to as musical cues. These musical cues can consist of acts such as key changes, decrescendos, and specific chord progressions. Working alongside these musical cues, are our genre expectations. When we as listeners go into a song knowing it may fall into the genre of “sad,” then we will have a set precedent in our minds of what we may hear, and search out these cues to validate what we may be expecting. This selective listening contributes to finding the sadness that we are searching for when we listen to unhappy music.

Empathy is another reason why music can be so successful in communicating sadness. Listening to heartfelt lyrics that are accompanied with the appropriate musical components is a great way to make a listener feel with the artist, instead of just feeling for the artist. Many songs have components that are relatable for their audience, which allows the listeners to put themselves in the same position of the singer and empathize with them. In fact, this is one of the reasons why we often search out sad music; to find someone who understands us, and understands the pain that we are going through. 

“The Dream Song,” by the artist Barzin, highlights many of these qualities that express the emotion of sadness. To start off, the lyrics show essentially no sign of hope. They are depressing and drained of any sense of optimism. Unfortunately, these are feelings that many people can relate to and emphasize with. Next, the continuous and slow melodies included in the song represent the emotional and musical cues that are searched out when someone is in the pursuit of finding a truly sad song. Although these painful emotions are not preferable or ideal, finding comfort in music is sometimes all we can do to make our way through these moments of sadness.

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