Editor: Lefteris Anestis

Translator: Katerina Fragkopoulou

In our daily life, we avoid -as much as possible- stimuli, people and situations that generate negative feelings. However, after a tiring day, many of us choose a sad piece of music to accompany our relaxing moments in our car or back home, whereas there aren’t few times when listening to these songs submit us to a deep melancholic mood. This music is maybe a general preference of a person, but it is often chosen after emotional loses, like a divorce or a death. Feeling sadness, even bursting into tears after listening to these sounds, offers a peculiar emotion of pleasure, even though sadness is perceived as a clearly negative feeling.

All forms of art, when they acquire a sad -even a depressing- tone, create more intense feelings than works with a happy character and leave people with a strange sense of pleasure. Already from the ancient times Aristotle referred to catharsis that the audience enjoyed after attending to a tragedy.  Something similar seems to happen with music, a form of art capable of intriguing a wide variety of feelings. More precisely, music is judged as sad based on both objective criteria that are related to the acoustic features of a (musical) piece and on subjective criteria, for example experiences that are related with the song or the lyrics that awake feelings.

People who prefer sad music seem to have a developed fantasy, a tendency for introversion and there are aflutter minds that continuously seek for new experiences. It has also proved that these people are easily lost into thoughts and fantastic pictures they create and they are distinguished by their heightened sensibility, features that, as we see, are associated with the experience of listening to sad music. On the other hand, the choice of ‘depressing’ music -the term is used without its pathologic meaning- may be serendipitous. In other words, this choice is perhaps correlated with a recent loss or associated with temporal feelings of loneliness or with specific circumstances in the lives of people. Common denominator for the choice of this specific kind of music is the person’s belief that it is a type of emotional expression with big esthetic value.

The scientific community has not surely concluded if sad music –indeed- creates negative feelings that then get transfigured to pleasure. However, participants in researches mention that in the sound of such music emerges a hedonic sense of mixed happiness and sadness. The philosopher Jerrold Levinson advocates that sad music creates an authentic feeling of grief, which has various beneficial actions that offer pleasure, for instance the recognition and the expression of intense emotions, the retrieval of emotional past happenings and the detachment of attention from real problems.

Sad music seems to have the ability to activate fantasy. In fact, people comprehend that the esthetic feeling, despite the negative complexion, is not actually baleful for ego and it achieves to submerge the person into a stage that seems like the one of hypnosis. Music and the imaginary abilities of a person collaborate in order to create a virtual reality in which the person is able to control and experience intense emotions. One more feeling that seems to be associated with depressing music is the nostalgia as a consequence of retrieving memories that the person -essentially- re-experiences through the music. The necessary condition is for the person to surrender himself/herself completely to the music and often feelings are more intense when someone is alone or close to nature.

The above findings attest that sad music has positive effects to the sentimental feelings of the person, helps the development of emotional intelligence, the activation of fantasy and the regulation of mood. Music therapy acquires more and more empirical support from researchers. Certainly, the role of sad music seems to be noteworthy.



Garrido, S., & Schubert, E. (2011). Negative emotion in music: What is the attraction? A qualitative study.

Kawakami, A., Furukawa, K., & Okanoya, K. (2013). Sad music induces pleasant emotion. Frontiers in psychology, 4.

Sachs, M. E., Damasio, A. & Habibi, A. (2015). The pleasures of sad music: a systematic review. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 9.

Vuoskoski, J.K., Thompson, W.F., Mcilwain, D. & Eerola, T. (2012). Who enjoys listening to sad music and why? Music Perception, 29 (3), 311-317.