How Scary Can Music Be?
Updated: Aug 24
If we combine different sounds together we can either get moments of joy, pleasure, happiness or we can also feel scared, anxious & disturbed by them. How sounds can be so similar and yet if used in the right way make
us feel so different? Let’s find out.
One of the first historical examples dating back to the 8th century BC is the Necromancy of Acheron (which
means “Oracle Of The Dead”). Civilians would enter a huge space after they’d carefully been questioned and drugged by the local priests, where they thought that they could talk to their dead relatives but the truth was that the whole room was a great psycho-acoustics trick carefully designed by them.In fact, it was so quiet in there that they would only hear the sound of their heart beating and their blood flowing that they would get absolutely crazy and feel disturbed. In combination with them being dazed they actually thought that they’re communicating with the deceased.
By looking at this example from centuries ago, we can understand that people always knew that specific sounds used in the correct way can be disturbing no matter where they come from (nature,animals,humans,machines etc). We’ve all watched movies and listened to songs that sent shivers down our spines because of the sounds that were used in them. Most likely one or more from these sounds were used in them: a whisper, a scream, a crackle, an animal growling, a loud cry, a very low or a very high voice speaking, a dissonant melody, an off-key synth or even electricity hissing etc. The sounds mentioned are all considered “irregular sounds” and they are very different from what our ears are used to hear, so that means that when we perceive them our brain automatically converts this feeling to disturbance and fear.
The most frequent thing that occurs in scary songs is that they’re all written in the minor scale and more specifically, for all the music makers out there, in aeolian, locrian and phrygian scales. For those who don’t know, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch and they’re separated in two big categories. The Major scale , in which all the happy songs are based and the Minor scale, where all the sad & scary songs are based.
After asking a small group of people what song scares them we brought together all the similarities between the songs and what makes them indeed scary. Take a listen to these songs that were mentioned:
Kendrick Lamar - U
Billie Eilish - Bury A Friend
The Weeknd - Coming Down
FKA Twigs - I’m Your Doll
Kate Bush - Waking The Witch
Alon Mor - Presudeos
What we found interesting but not surprising is that all these tracks are written in the Minor scale and they all have some sounds in them from the ones mentioned above. We can hear the eerie voices of Billie Eilish, FKA Twigs, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and Kate Bush touching our ears but we can also notice the crazy unusual synths, off key melodies, reversed voices, low frequency basses and nature’s scary sounds used in Presudeos, U and Waking The Witch that makes us feel uneasy. More and more artists nowadays experiment with scary sounds, in order for the tracks to be more recognizable and to give the listener the pure feeling of being frightened.
As much as we get scared by certain sounds and songs we will never stop listening to them because fear is one of the most intense feelings a human can perceive and we all love some adrenaline. In conclusion, music can be really scary depending on how the sounds are used and the emotional state you are in the moment you listen to it.
What are some songs that scare you? Don't hesitate to give us your opinion.