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.