I analyzed the chords to 1300 songs for patterns. This is what I found. (Part 3) Interactive Discovery

Last year, we discussed the first results of a long term effort to study the patterns found in the chords of popular songs. The reception that we got was incredibly positive, and we received a ton of great feedback.

The two most common questions we’ve gotten from people have been:

  1. “I really like the sound of chords X Y Z together. What other songs use this same progression?
  2. “After I’ve written a few chords that sound good together, I need help knowing what a good next chord might be. Can you show me what the next chord is likely to be given a starting set of chords?

Our answer: Hooktheory Trends

Our crowdsourced database is uniquely suited to answer these questions because it contains the harmonic data of songs indexed in a way that makes it easy to perform this type of analysis. We’ve been hard at work designing a free tool that will make exploring the answers to these questions both fun and easy. Continue reading below for a short tour or get started using Trends by clicking here.

Hooktheory is experiencing VERY high traffic as a result of this article.
To deal with this traffic we have set up mirrors of the interactive tool we have built. They are located here :

Mirror 1

Mirror 2

How Trends Works

  1. When you open Trends, you will see the most commonly used chords in the key of C. (You can switch to a different key or Roman Numeral notation if you so desire. Also, if want to see less frequently used chords, you can click on “more…” to see the rest.)

    The most common chords in the key of C.

  2. To begin, click a chord you are interested in. In this example, we will choose C major (the I). After you choose a chord, you will see the next most likely chords to come after it based on the data analyzed from the actual songs in our database. Below, we learn that G major (the V) is the most common chord to follow C (the I), occurring 31% of the time. The probabilities were computed by performing a Markov Analysis using every song in the database.

    When you click a chord, you see the next most likely chords, and their likelihoods, written as a percentage.

  3. By clicking on more chords you can build up a chord progression that you are interested in. Any time you click a chord, a list of all songs that use the chord/progression gets updated to the right. In this example, we see songs that use C → G (the I to V).

    Click more chords to build a progression. Songs using the progression are listed to the right.

  4. At any time, you can click a song from the list to see exactly how it uses the chords – they are even highlighted for you. You can then choose to listen to the YouTube music video synchronized to the section of the song using these chords or hear a simplified instrumental version.

    Click a song to highlight where it uses the chords. Play that portion of the song’s YouTube video or hear a piano play the raw chords.

    Here, after noting that “Someone Like You” by Adele uses the same chords as “Cryin'” by Aerosmith, we have clicked on Adele’s song see where she uses these chords.

The ability to quickly explore visually how chords are used in different songs opens up a huge potential for discovery and learning. Below, we have come up with a few suggestions for where you might start. Let us know in the comments if you think of other interesting uses.

Get started using Trends by clicking here!

Hooktheory is experiencing very high traffic as a result of this article.
To deal with this traffic we have set up mirrors of the site:

Mirror 1

Mirror 2

Fun things to try

  • Start on a C major chord (a I chord) and follow the most probable chord sequence to find the most common chord progression used by popular songs. Hint: it’s the famous 4 chord song progression.
  • Look up the chords to a song you know and see what other songs use that exact sequence of chords.
  • Play a couple chords on your instrument that you like and ask the database for the chord that is most likely to follow this sequence based on the songs in the database. If you’re writing a song, you can use this information to pick a chord that other songs have used (so it is known to sound good). Alternatively, you can use this information to try something that other songs don’t do to find a unique sound.
  • Look for ridiculous combinations of songs that use the same chords. (My favorite so far: Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites and Taylor Swift’s Mine both use G am G F)
  • Become a contributor! if you want to help make the database better, contribute an analysis or fix an error using our interactive songwriting software Hookpad (it’s also great learning tool for writing your own chord progressions).
  • Tell us things you come up with that you found the most interesting. We’ll discuss your most intriguing finds in future posts.
  • John C

    Wow. This is really fantastic.

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Hooktheory

      Thanks, John. We had a ton of fun building it so I hope it turns into something useful for people. Let us know if you have any feature requests.

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  • j

    great work, keep it up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashton.chevallier Ashton Chevallier

    Rock n’ roll gentlemen. As is the custom.

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Hooktheory

      One of these days we will have to come out to North Beach and watch you shred.

  • http://twitter.com/bomatson Bobby Matson

    Amazing stuff guys, a great tool for composition. Any way to use this with Live 9?

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      Yeah, I think so. You can export projects you write in the Editor as a Midi file. I’m assuming Live 9 will let you import that.

  • http://twitter.com/josephzhou Joe Zhou

    Systematically generate songs based on statistics, pretty awesome man! Though music is more than theory :)

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  • http://twitter.com/IstvanHajnal Istvan Hajnal

    Well done! I love the fact that when you follow the common C-G-Am pattern one of the songs you end up with is Hook by Blues Traveler. How’s that for a Hook Theory!

  • http://twitter.com/IstvanHajnal Istvan Hajnal

    One more thing. I’m sorry for being ignorant, but how can I start with Eb?

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      Great question. This depends on what you want. In the key of C, Eb plays the role of bIII and is not very common. To access it, you have to click the “more” chord to show the other uncommon chords. It’s there in the lower left. Here is the direct link to start with this chord if you can’t find it:
      http://www.hooktheory.com/trends#node=b3&key=C

      Looks like the theme to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles uses this chord (also Metallica and Radiohead).

      On the other hand, if you change the key to Eb, then Eb chords become very common since it’s just the I.

      • Jim

        I noticed this also. It seems in the trends tool in the key drop down there is no Eb/D# (you only have 11 keys). also I can’t seem to get trends to work in chrome for the mac (there are strange issues with the image being warped and unselectable), but I am able to get it to work in safari. Despite these issues I really love this tool. thanks for your work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ina-Plassa-travis/100000989743025 Ina Plassa-travis

    : ) as someone who has watched generations of musicians play this game, and learn about music they’ve never heard before through it, I’m enthralled, and more than a little misty-eyed. Thank you !

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=601432413 Prashant Singh

    this is fantastic . WOW . last time i liked any music recommendation service was when i tried Pandora and I was hooked with its algo based on Music Genome Project (MGP) . meta tags in MGP were human curated of course ( so they were subjective also ) .they have tags like dominant male voice , country roots, heart brook lyrics . high pitch music , guitar sound , acoustic background music , elctronic music etc

    This looks more authentic . i have a gut feeling that inspite of the diffrence MGP and your algo will have by and large same recommendation . How do you guys look at MGP and their approach . thanks for sharing this

  • guyboy

    Small bug report when exporting this song to midi: http://www.hooktheory.com/editor/view/jf4t2g2ijBJS

    In minor key, V (borrowed from major) exports as v. (Using IV/ii instead fixes it, but just FYI.)

    In the song posted above, that “7 flat” note exports as one octave higher.

    [Lacking feature] There is no chord strumming in 6BPM mode when exporting.

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      Thanks! We’ve fixed the issue with Midi export of borrowed chords and it should be going live shortly.

  • http://twitter.com/m21212121 Molite

    I am going to try this out but I also find it kind of a bummer

  • Mathiascg

    I just casually came across a little bug while re-reading this article. It was written in March, wasn’t it?

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      Good catch Mathias.

  • Ian Gibson, Esq.

    What an incredible resource! Thank you so much for all your hard work.

  • Jon Gluvna

    gay

  • http://www.brotivational.com/ El Tejon

    This is actually a really awesome way to look at this

  • mkertzman

    Hi – I love the trends idea, but I’ve been trying to use it on Mac OS X 10.8.3, with Safari 6.0.3 and none of the chord choices show up. All I see is the drop-down for the choice of key, but nothing below that. If I try it using Chrome or Firefox it works fine. Is anyone else having issues with Safari?

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Hooktheory

      Thanks for the info. I’m running 6.0.2 and it is fine. Let me update to 6.0.3 and check it out – it is probably and easy fix.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.muller2 Don Muller

    Hey, we all know, or should know that after a 1 chord, in American Music you will likely see a 4 or 5 chord. So that part is expected right? But, what was comprising the other category that got more than the 4 chord? Was it 4 (7th), or 5 (7th) or both? If not, what was it, that happened MORE THAN ???

  • http://www.facebook.com/cjsmusic C.J. Smith

    This is pretty darn awesome!

    It’s probably worth noting that when you get into specifying a chord further than the triad (7, sus, etc.), you have to be careful how you analyze the songs as a group – sometimes grouping the V7s with the Vs would be useful, but sometimes keeping them separate would also be useful. An example of this is… when I put I –> V/V –> IV, I absolutely expected to get Forget You. However, I also expected Eight Days a Week. The problem is, in that song it’s called V7/V. The songs are no doubt strikingly similar, and yet that tiny difference means that those songs are not in each others’ songs with similar chords lists, when they DEFINITELY should be, as well as I believe Eight Days a Week should be found in trends if you aren’t thinking about the 7. There should also be an option in Trends to choose to combine things like this together, or to separate Vsus from V, as I could see that having different trends, though they are currently grouped together.

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      This is a really good point and something that will likely come in a future update. The data in analyzed in such a way that we can choose to ignore embellishments like this. The main issue will be coming up with an interface that doesn’t make the tool more complicated than it needs to be.

  • Tom Smeding

    This is pretty awesome. One cool thing though: I just noticed Nyan cat is in there. Sadly not the 10-hour version LOL. To find it, search for the sequence em-am-dm-G(-C)

  • Darlene Vitoria

    Wow, I think it is very interesting and very well done. Very cool.

  • Gordon

    I take umbrage to people writing unfounded statements regarding common practice period (Baroque, Classical, Romantic) chord progressions. If one looks at “all” literature from this period, then one can make the following claim: “Musical progressions can be divided into 3 classifications of decreasing strength, which are: cycle 5 (motion up or down a perfect 4th/5th), cycle 3 (motion up or down a minor/major 3rd/6th), and cycle 7 (motion up or down a minor/major 2nd/7th)”; a progression with little to no change is: “cycle 0 (no change in notes; a change in position)”; a progression seldom used in all music is “cycle tritone (the very devil in music)”. Analyzing these progressions to see if these theories regarding strength of motion are true would be fascinating.

    • Janeen Clark

      hey gordon like to chat sometime

  • Chas

    The new Trends feature is simply amazing; this has to be one of the most important resources online for anyone interested in songwriting or music theory. In addition to the conceptual and research end of things, the web programmers and designers did a great job. There is one feature that I can’t find anymore, though, and I hope it’s not gone forever. I used to be able to browse all the Analyses – not just the 10 newest or most popular. Now it seems I have to search (rather than browse), which creates a very different experience. In the past I was thrilled to stumble upon analyses of songs by Girls and the Pixies, which wouldn’t happen if not for browsing. Am I overlooking a simple browse too here, or has that recently gone away? (Alternately, using the Twitter feed to link to each new analysis would allow users to browse through the online content. Either way, something that lets us “flip through” the selections would be fantastic.) Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    • http://www.hooktheory.com/ Dave

      Chas,

      This is something that occurred by accident during the redesign. We were so excited about our new search feature that we inadvertently made it more difficult to browse. We’ll be adding this back in shortly (you aren’t the first to have noted this!).

  • BusyBrainette

    Sometimes it’s more interesting to discard theory and just look at “what is.”

    I love your approach to this issue. We know the “fat” part of the data will likely reflect traditional chord progressions, but it’s the outliers that can be more interesting to parse. Then, if you’re really masochistic you can go delving into the “why” of those outliers – were they musical geniuses or just people who hadn’t yet learned their theory and happened upon something that sounded sublime? Oh, the possibilities!

    Thanks for sharing your results and I look forward to reading more! It’s exciting what data can illustrate!

  • VaJeena

    You ought to include a tool that allows you to import a song from a MIDI file. So many songs out there are freely available in MIDI format, all it takes is a simple Google search to find them. If you can find a MIDI file that stays true to the original piece, it would save us a lot of leg work and help us make this database even more comprehensive!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zack-Levy/1038810005 Zack Levy

    This is remarkable and I am glad it is a thing! Starting with a chord and finding the next most common or what have you it very neat. As a sociology major/music lover this is kind of what I live for. I was wondering though, instead if starting at C moving to G and finding the songs who follow suit… what about the songs in different keys that once transposed fit in place with them? Are they being accounted for, or just placed into the category with the songs in that key, in that progression?

  • Andy

    this is amazing, thanks a lot

  • Mario

    Generally, the way that Hooktheory is able to apply people
    with knowledge about great songs while teaching you the basic chords is as easy
    as it gets because not only to you get to enjoy the music samples but learn
    progressively as the music sample plays on. I really enjoy this program! It is
    fun and easy to comprehend and now that I have an understanding of some of the
    basic chords, I think I might put them to use.

  • jimbo

    this is great… i just with there was more current commercial music for the budding songwriters

  • http://www.facebook.com/michae.thompson ミク トンプソン

    And this is why my songs are in F#m

  • http://www.facebook.com/jan.vyverman.5 Jan Vyverman

    This is very interesting! Every time I listen to a song on the radio, I listen to the chords and I notice that the chord progression C-G-Am-F or Am-F-C-G is used very often (and Am-C-G-D too). Even in instrumental film scores! I write music myself and I try not to use those “mainstream” progressions. For example: C-Cm sounds a bit weird, but when you are creative, you can fix that :) Another example, it sounds good when you choose the right rythms and instruments: C-Em-G-Bb You don’t have to stick on those chords, be creative, that’s my advice! 😉 PS: I personally prefer Am-F-C-G rather than C-G-Am-F :)

    • http://www.jparsons.net/ James

      If you made a slight tweak and changed it to C-Eb-G-Bb, then you would be playing in the blues scale.

  • Rupert Rutland

    This may be of interest:

    http://itunes.com/apps/nextchord

  • Brenda A

    I like how the tool work it makes it easier to understand connecting the chords. It also makes the it easier to build and hear how the chords work together. i like how i can see how exactly the pian notes. it is complicated when trying to compose music especily when its your first time taking a music class.

  • Svantana

    Very interesting! Just a minor correction: following the most probable transition iteratively is not the correct way to find the globally most probable sequence, although it may work in some cases. To be sure to find the maximum probability sequence, you should use dynamic programming: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_programming

    Any chance this data will be made public? I’d love to play with it!

  • Kit Kabootle

    Fool On The Hill by the Beatles has the same chords as Boyfriend by Justin Bieber. Coincidence? I think not

  • Sharon Kathleen Johnson

    This is all well and good for people who like the prestige of being a musician without having to do the footwork. It might be better to buy a basic text like “Harmonics” by Walter Piston and learn how beyond major and minor, seventh, diminished, and augmented intervals give music variety and freshness. And the the role of tonic, dominant, and median (along with their subs) in building a song. Key, tempo, and rhythm changes also enhance listening pleasure. Reducing everything to a formula is what leads to MUZAK .

    • Bradley

      I know this is old, but –

      Just write the song. Let the engineers and audience figure out the details…

    • Steve Cheney

      Nah. Knowing the formulas and the rules makes it easier to break them. Most of the time when people just plough ahead, not knowing what they’re doing, they end up playing these chord progressions themselves – because they’re the most obvious ones. If you know a bit of theory, it’ll tell you how to make things more interesting or unpredictable.

  • Mike Cherrone

    I can’t seem to get any of the links to the database and the Trends. Nothing really works on the top navigation bar. I am excited to try out this new tool! It looks awesome and will help with my songwriting.

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  • Tyler

    This is awesome, I’ve been wanting something like this for so long, I wish I’d come up with it. Only problem I’ve experience so far is that it doesn’t work for Google Chrome, fine with Firefox though.

  • Daan

    It is quite fantastic. I would like to know though how I can obtain numbers. I’m very interested in how _many_ songs use the same chord sequence (or enharmonic equivalents). Your database holds potential to answer some serious scientific questions.

  • Jeremy Poindexter

    Oh man! This is an AMAZING tool. I’ve always wanted to be able to do precisely this kind of thing — find out what songs had similar chord progressions. Bravo! I may even contribute a few analyses.

  • Maxsuel Alves

    Congratulations I love this site and idea behind it! Does the trend works only for the major mode? Do you intend to create a trend also for the minor mode?

  • Shankar R

    Good, except that this and other sites never deal with chords of minor scales, so it would help if you can also expand the discussion to cover progressions in minor scales.

  • Nishant

    This is beautiful and awesome for budding musicians like me who have not had any formal training. God bless the team behind it. Please keep doing such stuff :)

  • Haywood Jablome

    Excellent work here.. although I don’t know that “Sultans of Swing” is an appropriate use of a I–>V example. Obviously, it’s technically correct to do so given the F-C turn, but it happens sort of “in the middle” of the verse’s chord progression and can easily be missed by the untrained ear. This is very misleading in comparison to the other songs (in which the progression occurs early on and is readily apparent).

    Does that make sense?

  • Club Fest

    By the way, “Someone Like You” has progression C Em Am F and not C G Am F. How do you obtain the chord data?

  • Zak

    This is unbelievable. This is such a great tool for aspiring musicians that are interested music theory or basic songwriting. I’m very surprised that this hasn’t taken off. One thing that I would do moving forward is to add a chord generator that can play the chords and loop them in the order that they were selected. Unfortunately, there is a gap between basic music theory and what these chords actually sound like when linked. Bridging that gap could help increase your audience because it would allow you to branch out to people who appreciate music without necessarily having a theory background. Additionally, just make sure the progressions end in the tonic and don’t modulate if they are not supposed to. For example, I->III->IV->iv (C-E-F-Fm) says that the progression will typically go back towards the IV 100% of the time, when it can also go back to the I. Even in the example it gives (creep by radiohead) the progression goes back to the I.

    Great job. This is awesome. Make this into an app so I can download it on my phone.

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  • Jeff

    Is there a way people can contribute to expand the library? The 1,5,6,Maj3 category is severely lacking lol. Awesome idea btw.

  • Rus Archer

    goodness gracious
    1st day music theory, anyone?

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  • Johnboat

    This blows

  • Luca

    incredibile. you have to extend the web app with some theory

  • MERKWERK

    minor mode gonna be added? this is genius guys but to me it is incomplete without songs in minor key. i’m sure it’s a crapload of work so you may be doing that now. keep it up

    • Janeen Clark
      • c_a_

        no, that makes sense in theory but not in practice. pretty much like this entire project. minor keys resolve to i, not to vi. even they are the same chord, the harmonic context is different.

    • Janeen Clark

      take any major key and go down 3 semi-tones to find the minor key IE C major down 1, b, down 2, a#,down 3 A minor abcdefg is the same as c major cdefgab

  • Onur Uslu

    great work! well done. I’ve been looking for such an idea for a long time. I ‘d expected something even much less detailed. this is far greater than my expectation. Thanks a lot

  • Ionis Ioanou

    This is amazing, I cant even imagine how much work was involved for this.. to happen. Its a great, and very practical tool.

    Thank you sir.

  • Shai Deshe

    It would be REALLY cool if you the colors of the notes would be relative to the chord and not to the scale

  • Claudiu

    Do you only do chords in major keys? I want to check out some minor keys..

  • Bob Longmire

    I tried the Hooktheory app, looking for alternative way to use the first few chords in “Abilene,” by Bob Gibson, Lester Brown and JD Loudermilk. Hit single by Geo. Hamilton IV in 1963. Song not found in database. Then I realized that while 1300 entries may be enough for the statistics, it doesn’t represent much of the music out there.

  • Matthew Foy

    First of all. I can only wish an incomprehensible amount of handjobs in your direction. You guys have put together a database that I’ve been trying to put together in a little notebook of mine for months and months. You guys have saved me so much work. There really isn’t that much data on pop music in a theoretical sense. This information is completely interactive and thorough too. Whenever I’m stuck creatively, usually when trying to figure out a transition, and I need a little bit perspective, I can just come here and see the kind of changes people would make for a pre chorus, bridge etc!

    Besides the huge thanks, I have a little feature recommendation if you guys have the time:

    One thing I love about your group’s understanding of songwriting is that intervals are the real information we we should try to understand, and not just the chord itself, which has a different context if the key is changed. What you guys could do to take that a step further is an option in the chord progression builder that makes the first chord you chose the first chord in a section of a song.

    For example:

    When I type in F Major, to Gmajor, to Cmajor, I get songs that have that progression somewhere within a song. It would be nice if I could chose F Major, or in this case the IV of the C scale, to be the FIRST chord in a section of a song. That’s a feature I’m really interested in because I can look for choruses that, in this case would start with that IV feeling. On the other hand, being someone who doesn’t write many choruses starting with the natural minor of the scale, it would be great to be able to look for parts of songs that start with that interval. If I type A minor to F major to G major, a lot of my option would be a chorus that’s starts with C major, then a minor, then F Major than G because those chords are technically part of that progression. However, it’s a totally different feel and musical setting.

    Thanks again you guys are amazing. Im on this site religiously now. This data is inspiring.

  • Jarett Holmes

    Love the site. It would be cool to be able to refine the trend to contain a time period. Choose the key, and then see most common next chord in songs released between March-August 2015.

  • http://milano.bbakeka.net/ BBakeca

    Very interesting! Thank you a lot!

  • 麒麟子

    Can this tool list the songs written by some key??and can filter it by genre??
    just like “search by key”

  • Mark Whitehead

    Fantastic website. I could spend my entire time exploring it and learning. However, I was surprised when looking at “You still believe in me” by the Beach Boys to find the chord in bars 9 and 10 marked as “V7/ii” – the lettered chord written underneath says “Gsharp7” which is surely correct (I would actually say it is a straight Gsharp) – which would be a 6major chord – an interesting chord which appears in quite a lot of 1960s pop (eg “What a day for a daydream” and the Beatles’ “Good Day Sunshine”. Is this a mistake?

  • Marcello Little River

    Great job! Can I search for very uncommon sequences. Like C – F# for example?

  • Brandon Bottin

    I have a suggestion for something you may want to consider creating! What if instead of compiling information from only the most popular songs, you introduce the option to pick songs by genre, or songs the individual using the app personally likes or wants to “use as inspiration” for a song they’re trying to make and then from there let it analyze the frequencies and progression popularity of the different notes/chords?

  • joe quimby

    I think the reason the chord progressions sound nice is because the songwriters already knew what chords sound well together. I IV V for example. As did generations before then. But you added nice colors.

  • John Nelson

    Great Article. learned quite a bit just readng it. Here’s a question for you; as an amateur songwriter, I always have trouble writing the bridge of a song. Can you tell me what the most common launching chord for the bridge would be in the key of C? That would be a really valuable piece of information.

  • Formerly Certain

    Seems like this is be used to write songs that sound just like everything else. It’s the Clear Channel Radio of songwriting for the 21st century.

    Please, invent new twists. Be creative. Take detours and the low-percentage chord regularly. Make it fresh.