In this experiment, participants (nonmusicians) heard pairs of melodies and had to judge which of the two melodies was happier. Each pair consisted of a single melody presented in two different diatonic modes (Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, or Phrygian) with a constant tonic of C; all pairs of modes were used. The results suggest that modes imply increasing happiness as scale-degrees are raised, with the exception of Lydian, which is less happy than Ionian. Overall, the results are best explained by familiarity: Ionian (major mode), the most common mode in both classical and popular music, is the happiest, and happiness declines with increasing distance from Ionian. However, familiarity does not entirely explain our results. Familiarity predicts that Mixolydian would be happier than Lydian (since they are equally similar to Ionian, and Mixolydian is much more common in popular music); but for almost half of our participants, the reverse was true. This suggests that the “sharpness” of a mode also affects its perceived happiness, either due to pitch height or to the position of the scale relative to the tonic on the “line of fifths”; we favor the latter explanation.

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