Major and minor scales are a central element in Western music. Neuroscientists from York University and the University of California conducted a study using random tone sequences, or 'tone-scrambles,' revealing that some people are naturally born with a talent for music.
Scott Adler, a researcher, explained that what the team 'measured over time was how the infants learned the association between which tone they heard and where the picture is going to show up. If they can tell the difference in the tone, over time, when they hear the major notes, for example, they'll make an eye movement to the location for the picture even before the picture appears because they can predict this.'
30 six-month-old infants' responses to tone-scrambles were monitored and resulted in two dramatic distributions of sensitivity. 30% of the babies scored near perfect in classifying major and minor tone-scrambles while 70% of them performed near chance.
The infants had anticipatory eye-movements would signal left versus right where a subsequent visual stimulus, or a target, would appear upon hearing major or minor tone-scramble scales. 33% of the listeners' anticipatory eye-movements predicted target location accurately while 67% of the eye movement was unrelated to the visual stimulus.
Understanding the difference between major and minor keys is a basic skill that musicians have. Professional musicians can have various explanations and music theories regarding the major and minor keys.
The easiest way to differentiate major versus minor keys is the emotional sounds they evoke. Major keys typically have bright, cheerful, and happy tones while minor keys are more dark, sad, and melancholic.
The Psychology of Music
Music can powerfully trigger people's minds to have responses such as chills or sorrow. Music such as upbeat jazz, funk, pop, or the happy birthday song, Dr. Shahram Heshmat, a psychologist from the University of Illinois, explained that 'pleasurable music may lead to the release of neurotransmitters associated with reward, such as dopamine.'
Moods can be altered by music as well as relieving stress. 'People use music in their everyday lives to regulate, enhance, and diminish undesirable emotional states,' he continued.
There is also evidence of an intellectual component with music, said Dr. Heshmat. People who consistently have an emotional response toward aesthetic musical stimuli possess a stronger connection 'between their auditory cortex and the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate more efficiently.'
Actions can also be triggered by music, as seen in the infants. Dr. Heshmat said that tones often cause people to move in coordination with the music. Internal rhythms, such as the heart rate, slow down or speed up to synchronize with the music, causing individuals to 'float and move with the music.
'At six months, it's highly unlikely that any of these infants have had any formal training in music,' says Adler. Although parents play music for their children all the time, this kind of specific musical training is not being done. 'This breakdown, therefore, is due to some inborn mechanism.'
Things that are in major are heard as being happy, and things that are minor are heard as being sad, explains Adler. These results are the same distribution percentages of major versus minor tone-scramble sensitivity found in adults.