Determining Which Instrument Sounds the Saddest

British composer David Bruce takes a look at how sadness translates into music and which instruments sound the saddest.

Musical instruments come in all shapes and sizes, but which is the saddest?

He first looks at how sadness in music makes people happy citing The Smiths as an example. He also examines the properties of those instruments that evoke a feeling of melancholy – those that mimic the sounds of human emotions. What he discovered is that instruments without frets do the best job of it.

Most human sounds made in sadness like a sob or a sigh, have a musical contour a shape which translates quite easily onto an instrument and this translation works particularly well when that instrument has the ability to play in smooth continuous lines rather than distinct notes.

Bruce further determines that the cello, with its similarity to the human body, is the instrument best suited to convey human emotion through music.

It has the physical proportions and the range to match a human singer as well as that flexibility of pitch that allows it to produce expressive moans and cries….there’s a combination of warmth and depth in the cello tone so that even if the music is quite light-hearted sometimes there’s a sense of reserve or of contemplation.

Human Emotion Cello
Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.