Emotions of the Musical Keys


Kerry "Fought for his Country"  Commercial

  Kerry "Tax Cuts" Commercial


Bush "Steady Leadership" Commercial

  Bush "100 Days" Commercial

Brief Toolan Analysis Explanation

Background Imagery Influences

Some Background on Musical Keys

Musical Influences

Toolan Annotation of Commercial Scripts

Who Do These Commercials Relate To?

Some Conclusions

Works Cited


C major: Completely pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naivety, children's talk
C minor: Declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key
Db major: A leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying.--Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key
D major: The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing. Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key
D minor: Melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humors brood
D# minor: Feelings of the anxiety of the soul's deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depression, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key
Eb major: The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God
E major: Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major
F major: Complaisance and calm
F minor: Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave
F# major: Triumph over difficulty, free sigh of relief uttered when hurdles are surmounted; echo of a soul which has fiercely struggled and finally conquered lies in all uses of this key
F# minor: A gloomy key: it tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language
G major: Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,--in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key
G minor: Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike
Ab major: Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius
Ab minor: Grumbler, heart squeezed until it suffocates; wailing lament, difficult struggle; in a word, the color of this key is everything struggling with difficulty
A major: This key includes declarations of innocent love, satisfaction with one's state of affairs; hope of seeing one's beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God
A minor: Pious womanliness and tenderness of character
Bb major: Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world
A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key
Bb minor: A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key.
B major: Strongly colored, announcing wild passions, composed from the most glaring colors. Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart lies in its sphere
B minor: This is as it were the key of patience, of calm awaiting one's fate and of submission to divine dispensation

From Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806) translated by Rita Steblin


Copyright Kevin Lessmann

Though not ubiquitous, the emotions induced by different keys in music is usually similar for most listeners.  Some common emotions usually related with the different keys are listed aside.

Although not everyone has the same reaction to every key, in general, these classifications of key relate to most people.  When compiled, major keys usually relate to love, hope, joy and pleasure while minor keys relate to  mostly gloomy, sad and anxious emotions.  Therefore, if Bush's commercial were to use a minor key, usual associated with sad or melancholy feelings, the upbeat and enthusiastic mood the commercial tries to set would be undermined by the music.  Similarly, the negative commercials' use the grave and obscure emotions usually associated with minor keys, thus encouraging the viewer to associate sad or threatening emotions with the apposing candidate and the pleased, encouraged emotion with their own candidate.  For more information on musical theory, visit music theory online or read The Psychology of Music: second edition, by


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