Which Musical Characteristics Can Often Be Found in Instrumental Music of Mourning?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Many people associate instrumental music with mourning, but what are the specific characteristics that make it so? We take a look at some of the most common musical elements found in pieces written to commemorate the dead.


Instrumental music of mourning often contains characteristics such as chromaticism, dissonance, and a generally slow tempo. These elements work together to create a sense of sadness and loss.

Chromaticism is the use of notes that are not in the major or minor scale. This gives the music a more complex and emotionally charged sound. Dissonance is the use of notes that clash with each other, creating a tense and uneasy feeling. Slow tempos also contribute to a feeling of grief and sorrow.

Together, these musical elements can create a powerful and moving experience for the listener. If you are looking for music to help you mourn the loss of a loved one, look for songs with these characteristics.

What is Mourning Music?

Music of mourning is any music associated with death, loss, and grief. It is often played at funerals and memorial services. This type of music can be very personal and reflective, or it can be more upbeat and positive. It can be helpful to choose music that reflects the personality of the deceased.


Mourning music is music that is written or performed to express grief, sadness, or loss. This type of music often has a slower tempo, and uses minor key tonalities to create a sense of unease or sorrow. Melodies in mourning music are often repetitive, and chord progressions may linger on certain chords to create a feeling of stasis. Instruments used in mourning music can vary, but often include strings, woodwinds, and piano.


Mourning music is characterized by its slow tempo, minor tonality, and somber mood. This type of music is often written in memory of someone who has died, and it is meant to reflect the sadness and grief of those who are mourning. While there are no hard-and-fast rules about what makes mourning music, these three musical elements are often found in this type of music.

Mourning Music in Different Cultures

Music of mourning is found in every culture around the world and takes many different forms. It can be found in the music of the indigenous people of Australia, the blues of the American South, the laments of the Portuguese fado, the Chinese erhu, the Iranian doira, and the Ghanaian kagan. All of these traditions have one thing in common: they use music to express grief and loss.


Instrumental music of mourning in Europe often features the following musical characteristics:
-Minor keys
-Slow tempi
-Simple melodies


Asian cultures have a wide variety of music for mourning. Much of this music is based on Chinese or Japanese traditions. The two main types of songs are shigin and bugaku. Shigin is a type of Chinese poetry that is often sung to instrumental accompaniment. Bugaku is a Japanese court dance that is usually performed to mourn the death of a notable person.

The music of mourning in Asia often has a slow and solemn tempo. The melodies are often repetitive and may make use of pentatonic scales. The instruments used can vary, but traditional Chinese and Japanese instruments such as the zither, flute, and shakuhachi are often used.


The United States has no real “national” mourning music, in the sense of a specific tune that is played or sung on solemn public occasions, but there are many well-known pieces of music that are often played or sung on such occasions. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem and is often played at public events, but it is not specifically a mourning song. “America the Beautiful” is sometimes played or sung at solemn public occasions, and its opening line (“O beautiful for spacious skies”) can be seen as evoking a sense of loss and nostalgia. “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” (“Sweet land of liberty”) is another patriotic song that is sometimes used on solemn occasions.

African American spirituals are often sung at funerals, and some of them (such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”) can be seen as having a specifically mournful character. Similarly, Mexican folk songs called corridos often deal with themes of death and loss, and are sometimes played or sung at funerals.


Instrumental music of mourning often contains musical characteristics such as a slow tempo, minor key, and simple melody. This type of music is generally intended to evoke feelings of sadness or grief in the listener.

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