The emotional importance of key: do Beatles songs written in different keys convey different emotional tones?

Percept Mot Skills. 2000 Dec;91(3 Pt 1):973-80. doi: 10.2466/pms.2000.91.3.973.


Lyrics from 155 songs written by the Lennon-McCartney team were scored using the Dictionary of Affect in Language. Resultant scores (pleasantness, activation, and imagery of words) were compared across key signatures using one way analyses of variance. Words from songs written in minor keys were less pleasant and less active than those from songs written in major keys. Words from songs written in the key of F scored extremely low on all three measures. Lyrics from the keys of C, D, and G were relatively active in tone. Results from Dictionary scoring were compared with assignments of character to keys made more than one century ago and with current musicians' opinions.

MeSH terms

  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Music*
  • Pitch Perception*
  • Psychoacoustics