Part 2: I analyzed the chords of 1300 popular songs for patterns. This is what I found.

Studio headphones placed on a laptop screen.

This article is Part 2 of a multipart series looking at the statistics gathered from 1300 choruses, verses, etc. of popular songs to discover the answer to some interesting questions about how popular music is structured. Click here to read Part 1.

In Part 1, we used the database to learn what the most frequently occurring chords are in popular music and also started looking at the likelihood that different chords would come after one another in chord progressions.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll continue this exploration into the patterns evident in the chords and melody of popular music. First we’ll look at how popular music ends musical ideas and discuss a surprising difference between popular music and classical music. Then we’ll talk about the most popular chord progression used by songs in the database and discuss the ubiquity of this progression. Finally we will revisit the question of “which chords occur most frequently in popular music” and look at the reasons for why this is the case.

The first article received A LOT of really great feedback. We’re definitely using the feedback you’re giving to help guide us with where to go next, so keep it coming. Let’s get started with Part 2.

1. What are the most common ways that songs written in C get back to the C major chord?

For songs written in C major, the C major chord (the I or “one” chord in Roman numeral notation) is the song’s tonal center, so this is an important question to explore.

Probably the most fundamental rule governing chord progressions in classical music is the idea that in the key of C, G major chords (or V chords) are the right way to wrap up a musical idea. This has been known for ages, and popular music would be expected to do this too. Listen to this section from “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. As the clip plays, we’ve highlighted the chords for you to follow as you listen along.

Listen in particular to that final G chord at the very end of the crazy buildup. That’s a V chord. And that’s how you end chord progressions. That’s just how it’s done.

“I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith

[hookpad_player id=AnLgaevEgYp ]

…Except when it’s not. One of the interesting things about popular music is that this VI (G to C) resolution isn’t adhered to nearly as much as it is in classical music. How much does popular music depart from this standard? We can answer that by looking at the songs in our database to get a precise answer. The following plot shows the frequency that the other basic chords are used to come before I (C for songs written in C).

Chords right before C major (the I chord)

Chords that come right before C major

What stands out here, is that IVI (F to C) is not only normal, it actually shows up just as often as VI (G to C). This is surprising (at least to a classically trained person).

We also learn from this data that very few chord progressions go from iii to I (Em to C). In Part 1, we learned that Em (iii) almost always goes to F or Am (IV or vi) so this is totally consistent. Some of you were interested in seeing examples of songs that break with the trends that we’re finding. In that spirit, here’s one song in the database that happens to use Em (iii) in this way: Lady Antebellum’s “I Need You Now”:

“I Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum

[hookpad_player id=dJNgq_z-orz]

This illustrates the point that it’s definitely possible to “break the rules” and still sound great. If you’re tempted to take this as an invitation to just experiment and do whatever you want, just remember the old mantra that I wish more songwriters would follow: “You’ve got to learn the rules before you can break them”. In fact, in this very example the weaker iiiI (EmC) only happens in the first phrase. In the second repetition, the verse is ended much more emphatically with a strong G going to C (VI). Also notice that the beginning of this section starts on a C (I) chord that is arrived at from an F (IV). So while this song uses the iii in an unusual manner, it is still following a lot of other “rules” elsewhere.

2. What is the most popular chord progression used by songs in our database?

To answer the question many of you were asking in the comments. The most popular four-chord progression that shows up in the database is in fact the IVviIV (or CGamF in the key of C). This, by the way, is a great example of a progression that uses the IV instead of V to get back to I. You can listen to a few songs that use this progression below:

  1. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey (1981)
  2. “Let It Be” by The Beatles (1970)
  3. “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 (2002)
  4. “Edge Of Glory” by Lady Gaga (2011)

[hookpad_player id=Kyvmr_KzgOW]

What to take away from this? First, let’s be clear that just because a song uses only four chords doesn’t mean it’s necessarily stupid or inferior. It’s how you use those four chords that counts. Even more importantly though, I want to dispel the notion that popular music can’t be interesting musically.

Even though it’s true that there are a lot of songs that stick to just four chords, this definitely isn’t universal. There’s lots of examples in “popular” music that are really rich harmonically. To give just one example, listen to the chorus from the song “Who Says” by the John Mayer:

“Who Says” by John Mayer

[hookpad_player id=dJNgq_y-orz]

John Mayer songs are often interesting to analyze because he studied at the Berklee School of Music and knows his harmony. This is the type of chord progression that a classical musician would recognize and understand immediately.

But popular music also uses chords in ways that are different from what a purely classically trained musician would be accustomed to hearing. Consider Christina Aguilera’s “I Turn To You”:

“I Turn To You” by Christina Aguilera

[hookpad_player id=nKexEbwOo_B]

There’s obviously a lot going on in this song harmonically, and while I’m sure you guys will analyze every detail in the comments, the point I’m trying to make here is that there are examples of interesting uses of chords in popular music everywhere. You just have to look for it.

3. “Why” are the most frequently used chords in popular music what they are?

In part I, we found out that the most commonly occurring chords were the following:

Chord use when all songs are transposed to the key of C major

Most common chords in the key of C major

The reality is, and this was pointed out by many of you in the comments, that a lot of the explanation behind all of this can be answered with some basic music theory. If you’re interested in learning some of the reasons that these chords are popular, we encourage you to check out Hooktheory I, our interactive book for iPad and web that teaches the theory behind popular music in ways that are approachable and fun to all musicians. Thank you for reading! Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Other posts in the 1300 song series


95 responses to “Part 2: I analyzed the chords of 1300 popular songs for patterns. This is what I found.”

  1. Bob A Avatar
    Bob A

    Keep up the good work guys. Really cool analysis.

  2. chris rollinson Avatar
    chris rollinson

    superb insight, keep it coming 🙂

  3. Mak Avatar

    Good job!

  4. Jochem Avatar

    Have you seen this as an interesting visual way to map common chord progressions: (for in the key of C). Steve also made a generic one:

  5. Dude McManus Avatar
    Dude McManus

    “a lot of the explanation behind all of this can be answered with some basic music theory”

    Ya know, that final chart is also a list of the primary “open” chords on guitar taught to beginners.

  6. Brian Bulkowski Avatar
    Brian Bulkowski

    Interesting,I would love to see an analysis of percentage not based on chord (G is most popular because it’s easy to play on guitar), but based on harmonic position in the circle of fifths – and percentages by progression. How many songs have I-V , how many have I-IVdim , etc. You should be able to make a very interesting graphical representation based on all 2, 3, and 4-tuples that are possible, and the top 50 of each.

    (don’t be afraid to put a little music theory in a popular post, the solid 2% of readers who have a college level understanding of music theory will be very happy)

    1. Dave Avatar

      Hi Brian,
      All the analyses were done with Roman Numerals without respect to a particular key. In other words G = V so the results should not be tainted by how easy a given chord is to play on the guitar.

  7. WIlliam P Riley-Land Avatar

    Very cool! Isn’t the IV -> I regression frequent in certain folk musics e.g. Appalachian or Irish?

    1. BB Avatar

      Hi William!
      The IV – I cadence is also quite popular in hymns. Most likely because of the strong resolution, and also the IV would be a major 7 and not a dominant 7 when utilizing 7th, 9th, 11th chords, etc.

      I used to play guitar at the St Mark’s Church in the Bowery, East Village, NYC in the mid ’90s. That church had the most beautiful music back then (until Canon Rev Lloyd Casson let)! This was a musicians/artist’s church. Lovely space! I did notice the IV – I cadence often.

      Have a wonderful day!

  8. chubbar Avatar

    The biggest problem with your analysis, although interesting, is that of sample selection. You only picked songs that stay in the key of C. So many songwriters change keys within a song, such as Elton John. In fact, the more skilled a songwriter becomes, the better they get at using chords that “aren’t in the key.” Check out “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.”

    1. Dave Avatar

      We actually try to account for this in our analysis. We always analyze a progression in the key that the song is currently in at the time regardless of whether it started in that key or modulated to it at some point. We also take into account things like secondary dominants and borrowed chords for when a song uses chords that are out of the key but doesn’t fully modulate. We haven’t talked about these chords in this series yet, but we will.

  9. […] Theory, a company that teaches musical theory, analyzed 1300 popular songs and they found most pop songs had the same chords and melodies – it was all the same music, with slight tweaks. There’s a fun music video on how […]

  10. Matthew Avatar

    Did you only use major key songs? Also, why is there no F minor on the most frequently occurring chords? Maybe this is sampling bias but I feel that I’ve heard a lot more iv chords than bVII chords in popular music

    1. Brian B Avatar
      Brian B

      Fmin (minor 4) has been gaining traction in recent pop hits.

  11. Dave Avatar

    We do actually analyze songs with F minors (in the key of C) in them. It’s a really interesting chord that is usually used very specifically. bVII (or as we label it, IV/IV) seems to be more popular, at least in the songs we’ve analyzed. Both are obviously much much less popular then the purely diatonic chords of course.

  12. Michael Avatar

    I’d like to know what the most common four-chord progressions are in popular music. Then I can write new melodies over standard chord patterns.

  13. […] Part 2: I analyzed the chords of 1300 popular songs for patterns. ( […]

  14. […] related to this topic, for example the ones of Dave from hooktheory. His work is about musical progressions but the underlying math is more or less a more complex version of what I was doing with recipes and […]

  15. Matt Avatar

    I believe the Lady Antebellum example consists of 3 phrases, not 2. The initial F is a lead in, followed by 3 four-measure phrases, and the final C is part of the next section. The analysis is really interesting so far, keep up the good work 🙂

    1. Dave Avatar

      We definitely had to stretch to find an example of a song that used iii to get to I. They just aren’t very common. Definitely agree that the F is a lead in. A perfect example of a song using IV to get to I!

  16. Nate Clark Avatar
    Nate Clark

    awesome! I really enjoyed your point that popular music can be rich and interesting. Coming from a classical background and hanging out with a lot of jazz musicians I was force fed this notion that pop music is inferior and should be scoffed at. In my heart of hearts I knew this wasn’t true and you’ve done some great work proving to me that I am right in my intuition. I’m excited to read more soon! Thanks for some inspriation!

    1. Dave Avatar

      Thanks Nate. It’s definitely not all I IV V I. We’ll have more soon.

  17. […] Part 2: I analyzed the chords of 1300 popular songs for patterns. ( […]

  18. Harald Græsdahl Avatar

    Fantastic work you have done here guys…really got me “hooked”…!!! Well done. What can I do to help?…Awe…!

  19. Shelly Avatar

    I’m a piano teacher in Texas. Thank you for the work you are doing on this project. I’m looking forward to sharing this with my students….they will be grateful to play songs other than “London Bridge” and “Yankee Doodle”!

  20. Carl Avatar

    Great stuff! I will keep rereading this. Came to think of some research on the Beatles which has a similar approach, studies which chords were just most etc. Check it out here:

    I also have some book (or more like a catalogue) called MoneyChords where the author has organized hits in groups using the same chord progressions. I believe there is a site called as well.


  21. Jerry Shen Avatar
    Jerry Shen

    Actually, interestingly, I – IV progression in classical isn’t all that rare. It’s one of the few ways for “Tonic expansion”. Meaning that the same progression can usually be substituted for I – I. The IV is just there to make things more interesting (Hence F comes after C). Where as the Lady Antebellum’s usage of I – iii, can be seen as a method of tonic expansion as well since theoretically I – iii are chords of the same function. Most importantly, structural-wise, (if you pay attention to the way those four bars are phrased) the iii – I merely happened as a by product of a repetition if “A” section in a miniature ABAC form. So the iii – I should not be seen as a harmonic transition but rather the ending of a chord phrase and the beginning of the next chord phrase.

    Hope that helps.


  22. mydogiscalledbert Avatar

    nice site. The comments on this article range form “ooh that’s cool, useful ideas ” to a snooty “harrumph, don’t you understand music theory.” The truth is in-between. I believe this analysis is worthwhile, because “official” (snooty people) ideas about what is “correct” in music theory have changed completely over the centuries – and if you research hard on this, you’ll find the world’s top musicologists and physics-of-music and psychology-of-music professionals are still at odds with how this all works; in other words, there *is* no 100% theory of music, and don’t let the snobs tell you otherwise. On the other hand, pure chord frequency stats, while a valid exercise, are of low value on their own. Here are some points to consider to further your research:

    What’s more important is the chord progression. I have also made a study of this and have analyzed many hundreds of pop songs to look at what common patterns I might find. One thing I can absolutely assure you is that if you perform this analysis of the Beatles’ music, you be be amazed. ( Note how some of the snobby comments in this article say the Beatles “didn’t understand music.” So many people say this, especially jazz snobs (who don’t really understand music) and classically-trained musicians (who again tend to know nothing about the physics or statistics about music.) For all of their 210 songs, they seemed to have experimented, *deliberately* with a new chord progression with every song. And I don’t mean just different permutations of I II III IV V VI . In their early days, their main melodies were myxolydian and hence the chords were based on 7ths. Then soon after they based their music on what I call “borrow chords.” For the key of C, these are Eb Ab and Bb (borrowed from the related key of C minor) and D (borrowed from the cycle-of-fifths nearby key of G) and Bb (borrowed from the cycle-of-fifths key of F.) Just remember that MacCartney’s father was a music teacher who trained him from an early age, and John came from a reasonably well-heeled family that had supported his musical education from an early age, so the idea that they were completely clueless amateur musicians who didn’t know what they were doing but just played it because it sounded good, as promoted by “proper” musicians, is absolute nonsense! OK, they might not have been experts in reading and writing music, but that side of music theory is100% different from the theory of harmony and harmonic progressions, and that’s where their genius shone through.

    As an exercise, and an extreme example of how groundbreaking their chord progressions could be, try writing out the full chords to “I am the Walrus” in the key of C. I guarantee you will be astonished. The song represents a heavy use of borrow-chords and forced, but not unpleasant, key changes. But the Beatles’ music just *works* perfectly with the melody chosen, There are no notes that sound wrong, or chords that sounds wrong, in spite of all this rule-breaking (compared to a lot of bebop and modern jazz , which absolutely does contain wrong notes that sound good.) This means there is a whole body of harmony theory that is just not taught to musicians. You read these posts, and a lot of people conclude that “classical and pop music is all about permutations of I II III IV V VI , and jazz takes the theory much further” but I’ve realized that jazz only takes music in one direction; the theory is limited. You ask a good jazz improviser of whatever instrument to play a good melody off the cuff to “I am the Walrus” and they will not be able to, because the chord progressions are so alien to their idiom. Magical Mystery Tour is another, but less extreme version of this type of chord use. In C it goes like this: C Eb F C Eb F Bb Bb7 Eb Gb Bb F C… (repeat.) So there is a borrow-chord of Eb, before forcing a key change to Bb, and then via Bb7 to supposedly F, except it’s not F, because the next chord is Eb again, and then Gb – which is one of the borrow-chords for the key of Eb (taken from the key of Eb minor! )

    Professional composers tell you the correct way to interpret these things is via interval analysis, and while that is true to a certain degree and a good idea, it is not completely a correct way to do things. Consider this. *The* original scale discovered was the pentatonic major, found in all kinds of ancient music. This is the 1st, 5th, 2nd, 6th and 3rd. I say it in that order because that is the correct order that arises when you take subsequent fifths (or to put it more visually, keep chopping a third of the length of a vibrating string.) If you keep going, for another 2 5ths you get the 7th and the tritone, the flat 5. Why were these not included? In the case of the 7th (or more correctly the major 7th) , this is just a minor second (one semitone) off the octave. Now, a minor second is the most hideously clashing of intervals, and as there was no chord theory and no equitemperament tuning back then, all notes in a melody had to be sounded against root or octave drone notes, as in bagpipes, hurdy gurdies, sitar and all sorts of similar instruments. The tritone splits the scale exactly in half, so is dissonant to the human ear as it throws the key centre off. If you play C Gb C Gb there’s no way of knowing if you are in the key of C or Gb, and the interval itself is rather dissonant. However continue the process of taking fifths and you get all the other notes, namely Db (the minor second) Ab (the minor sixth) Eb (the minor third) Bb (the flat seventh) F (the perfect fourth) and then back to C, and the cycle repeats. The sting in the tail as some have pointed out is that the C you get from this process is slightly different from a perfect octave C, and indeed successive 5ths are all slightly out of tune with eachother, a problem fixed with equitemperament tuning. Now, getting to the point, conventional wisdom says that a minor second is a dissonant interval. However if you play this as a minor added 9th chord, as an arpeggio, it is probably the most beautiful of all chords. In other words, the *other* intervals have *altered* its quality. similarly celtic musicians, who did include the major seventh and perfect 4th to make a full scale of C D E F G A B C, hated the clash of the B to the C so much that a lot of their music was myxolydian, ie a G drone note and a melody scale of G A B C D E F G , the F now being a new flat seventh. In other words, playing C and B was considered dissonant. But! play a C major seventh chord – C E G B , and it sounds very nice indeed. The other intervals have tempered the effect of the B. And what about the humble triad? Remember that C to Eb is a minor 3rd and C to E is a major 3rd. Major is happy, minor is sad. However a major triad e.g. C E G is a major 3rd plus a minor third. But it does not sounds sad at all! The lower major third has altered the dynamics. And a minor triad, C Eb G, is a minor (sad) 3rd with a major 3rd stacked on top, but it still sounds sad in spite of the major triad. So interval analysis, well, if you wanted to take all things into consideration and analyze to the nth degree it can get hideously involved, so full chord progression analysis (especially when inversions are analyzed as well) represents a perfectly good statistical base from which to analyze chord progressions.

    I’ll look forward to reading the rest of the stuff on this site!

    Do have a go at writing the Beatles songs in C though, for direct comparison, it’s a real eye-opener.

    1. neptune1bond Avatar

      Wow, I can’t believe that you actually have the audacity to imply that classical and jazz theory is worthless and that those musicians have no idea when it comes to music! It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so sadly ignorant. Then you go on to say,”What I call “borrow” chords.” as though you or the Beatles had anything to do with the idea, even though modal mixture and borrowed chords from the parallel minor are standard in basically every theory text in existence and my Kostka and Payne text gives examples of modal mixture (or borrowed chords) as far back as Bach and Haydn in the 1700s (not to imply that these were the first) (Btw,”Tonal Harmony” by Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne, Third edition, chapter twenty-one beginning on page 355, if you’d like to look for yourself). Don’t get me wrong, I like and appreciate the Beatles just fine and they were fairly competent musicians in my opinion. But why do some people want so badly to believe that classical and jazz musicians are somehow baffled by pop/rock music when that couldn’t be farther from the truth?

      To prove my point, I took your challenge and dug up my anthology of Beatles music (I didn’t bother to transcribe it myself since the that had already been done for me) and came up with a complete harmonic analysis of that version of “I Am the Walrus” needing no more than my 10 min. break while at work using my presumed “worthless” classical training and found absolutely nothing amazing or astonishing about it. Before I begin, I’ll remind all classical musicians that modal mixture, plagal cadences as a replacement of an authentic cadence (or a mixture of both as in the V-IV-I cadence), and more regular use of the mediant chord are all common devices in popular music. I’ll also remind classical musicians that, in popular music, when you see/hear a seventh chord in first inversion, the bass is sometimes (though not always) meant to be analyzed as the actual root of the chord and the chord isn’t really in inversion at all (it is in root position), they call this an added sixth (since it is a sixth above the bass). Also, if I name a seventh chord in my analysis, the seventh chord is a dominant seventh (also known as the major/minor seventh), even if the seventh is not diatonic, otherwise I will explain the “added notes.” In addition, every last chord is of major quality and this was accomplished through a lot of modal mixture and the ii chord is always a V/V. The following were the results of my analysis (I will explain the chord progressions only once and will make no further comment if the same progressions reappear later in the piece):

      The introduction begins with the progression (in the key of A):
      B-A-A(add 6)-G-G#5-F-F(add 6)-E-E7-D-D7
      V/V-I-I(add 6)-bVII-bVII#5-bVI-bVI(add 6)-V-V7-IV-IV7

      Now, you’ll notice that the V/V (B) that begins the piece does not progress directly to it’s resolution (V or E) until a little while later in the introduction. What is all the stuff in between? Well that’s simply a stepwise progression of chords (passing chords) descending the parallel minor of A (except for the V/V chord (B) and the major I chord (A)) until the proper resolution is reached (B-A-G-F-E). (The parallel minor of A major is a minor, the RELATIVE minor is f# (or gb) minor for those who might be confused by this.) What about the add 6 and #5 chords you ask? Well, adding a 6 to any chord does not change it’s function, but rather acts as embellishment in this particular case. As for the #5 chord, if you look/listen to the top line of the electric piano part beginning with the first G chord, you’ll notice that the notes of the top voice at that point are D-D#/Eb-C-D creating a half chromatic/half diatonic double neighbor, meaning that the #5 sonority does not truly have harmonic function, but rather is incidental from the chromatic upper neighbor. The V-V7-IV-IV7 is meant to be a V-IV-I cadence (the I chord is the harmony that begins the following phrase) with added sevenths (since the IV is serving an almost dominant function, the dominant seventh added is simply meant to help express that dominant function).

      The next phrase begins with a repeat sign and a dal segno sign and proceeds as following:

      The reason that I put I/G instead of I4/2 is because although the G forms a third inversion dominant seventh sonority, the chord does not function as a dominant. The bass simply creates a falling fifth motion to the following C chord giving the two a stronger connection. The IV chords, since they appear in the middle of the phrase, serve a tonic expansion role rather than a cadential one. The E under the D chord does the same thing as the G under the A chord and has a rising fourth (falling fifth) motion to make a stronger connection between the D chord and the following A chord. The progression following this is basically the same and requires no further explanation.

      After the preceding progression, there is a first and second ending. The first ending proceeds as following:

      This time the G after the first I chord is simply a stepwise descending baseline (A-G-F# or scale degrees I-bVII-VI) and still serves no dominant function. The D9/F# is a dominant ninth IV chord (dominant functioning) in first inversion which then resolves deceptively (though this is not a cadence) to bVI. The following bVII is merely a passing chord to lead back to I. The next G is, again, non-functional and is simply passing motion in the bass to the following bVI. The following progression is then a V/V leading to the V with passing chords in between, just like in the introduction, except this time ascending rather than descending. The first ending has a “to coda”(1 and 2) sign, which will, of course, only be important after we have reached the D.S. al coda (either 1 or 2).

      This then goes back to the repeat sign mentioned earlier and goes to the second ending which then proceeds as following:
      D(sus 4)-A-E-D
      IV(sus 4)-I-V-IV

      The first IV chord serves a tonic expansion role. The following I-V-IV is meant to serve as a half cadence (dominant functioning IV).

      There is then a D.S. al coda 1 sign (referring to the dal segno sign and the “to coda” (1 and 2) sign mentioned earlier), so I will continue at the “to coda 1” which proceeds as following:

      The first V chord is simply a continuation of the V chord from just before the “to coda 1” sign. The V/V-I-bVII-bVI-V progression is the same stepwise progression as in the introduction, this progression is then repeated. The following bVI chord is a deceptive resolution of the V chord. The following V/V-bIII-IV-V-IV is, again, the progression in the introduction but ascending instead of descending.

      There is then a D.S. al coda 2 sign so I will continue after the “to coda 2” sign which proceeds as following:
      D-C-B-(repeat sign)-A-G-F-E-D-C-B-(repeat and fade)
      IV-bIII-V/V-(repeat sign)-I-bVII-bVI-V-IV-bIII-V/V-(repeat and fade)

      The first IV is simply a stepwise descent from the preceding V and this stepwise descent continues and repeats endlessly as the music fades. This is a way to make the music seem as though it will forever continue to repeat even after the listeners hear it fade by giving the progression a “circular” quality. (The bass notes descend until each V/V chord where the bass jumps up a seventh. Also, the upper structure chords continuously change inversion to, more or less, stay in the same place. This is how they can have the continuous harmonic or chordal descent without exceeding the range of the instruments.)

      For anyone who may question my 10 minute analysis claim. Realize that I did not have to explain the chordal functions and progressions to myself, but simply needed to recognize a chord or group of chord’s function/s before moving on. Everything in this song should be easily recognized by any person with the adequate theory knowledge and should not take very long at all to analyze. Especially since there is technically no modulation or other common difficulty that an analyst might struggle with that would cause him/her any sort of problem (only tonicizations of V which is the most common of tonicizations and quickly recognized by most trained musicians).

      Also, I disagree with your analysis of the chord progression in “magical mystery tour.”

      If the progression truly is:

      Then it could be analyzed one of two ways the first one is:

      I-bIII-IV-I is a simple tonic expansion. The bVII7 is merely a tonicization of bIII (simply to make the falling fifth or circle-of-fifths harmonic “sequence” motion from IV to bVII(7) to bIII a little stronger) and, therefor, no modulation has occured at all. The reason that I did not give Gb a roman numeral analysis is because it would not function in the key of C at all, but rather would share a chromatic mediant relationship to Eb, and then in turn move through a similar chromatic mediant relationship (by major third instead or minor third) to Bb (bVII in the key of C) before moving to a (cadential) IV and then I.

      the second interpretation involves the same circle-of-fifths motion, but we instead interpret a modulation to actually occur at the Eb chord (that follows the Bb7 which puts us in the key of Eb, NOT F). In which case, the Gb is the bIII of Eb and the following Bb chord serves as the common chord for the modulation from Eb back to C.

      Either way, nothing that you gave is unexplainable to the trained musician. There simply is no ” whole body of harmony theory that is just not taught to musicians.” All of the best popular musicians actually took their music seriously and studied and trained just as much as any classical musician (take The Beatles for a great example). Don’t let ridiculous lies about the “uselessness” of classical and jazz theory or outdated ridiculous principles (like the K.I.S.S. principle and the apparent “anti-establishment” and “anti-academic” principles of some pop/rock/alternative/etc. musicians) discourage you from taking your music seriously and becoming the best musician that you can possibly be. Don’t fall into the ridiculous fallacy that a trained musician simply means a classical or jazz musician and does not include many, many musicians currently working in popular styles. All current music, regardless of style or genre, is based on the same scales, chords, and/or post-tonal theory as in the classical or jazz tradition. In fact the classical/jazz/pop/rock/etc. music of today is simply the culmination of a singular musical tradition based on the same twelve tone chromatic scale that we all know and love. The very small exception would be music that uses alternate tunings and/or traditions of other world cultures (almost never in popular music, even with music that uses ethnic instruments). Even in that case, there is a theory to explain it. (Honestly, what do you think people do for 4+ years in college? Sit around twiddling their thumbs while the professor simply states,”Betty, John, and Patty have talent while Steven, Christina, and Fred do not. Therefor the latter three fail automatically, while the proceeding three can go home and wait for four years, at which time we will give you a degree. Lucky you!)

      1. Kyle Stenseth Avatar
        Kyle Stenseth

        I was recently informed about your website and the work you have done. It is interesting from a musicians (percussionists) stand point to see the melodic breakdown of a lot of today’s popular songs and famous classic songs. Seeing this in the format you have created gives you a better understanding of the music. Also see how a good majority of songs a similar in structure as far as chord progression goes. One thing I noticed while working with the music editor was that for the average non-musician and someone like me who plays percussion and does not work with chords and melodies very often, it is not very accessible for creating a coherent piece of music. If there was a way to format it so people with no musical knowledge could create music to some extent. Doing this could help bring your theory and slight musical knowledge to the general population allowing people to enjoy their music even more.

      2. Da Beatles Am Da Best Avatar
        Da Beatles Am Da Best

        Firstly I’m listening to this song as I type.. Wow, this is not to my taste at all, to be frank I think it’s shit! Anyway to my point, maybe I’m just stupid, or know very little about music theory but that seems pretty complicated to me; especially for such poor results. If I wrote that song I’d be ashamed to tell anyone that I wrote any part of it.

        1. neptune1bond Avatar

          I’d forgotten that I had written that post. I assume since you’re responding to me that you’re talking about the song “I Am the Walrus”. It’s really not so complicated as it seems and it has nothing to do with your intelligence. It’s like if I wrote a mediocre children’s story in Latin. It may seem complicated or difficult to understand to a person who doesn’t speak Latin (or speaks only a little), but once you learn the language more and more it starts to seem less and less complicated. The quality of the story is not determined by the fact that it’s written in Latin, but rather the skill with which it is written. Even then, just because someone used big words and complicated sentences it doesn’t mean that the story is necessarily all that great. The Beatles were o.k. and I liked some of their stuff, but I don’t really place them on some pedestal or think that they were so incredibly special as some others might other than the fact that they were as popular as they were. They had songs I like and songs I don’t like, but that’s about it.

          1. Sean Connolly Avatar
            Sean Connolly

            lol, 2 years later.

          2. neptune1bond Avatar

            I know. When I got the notice from Disqus that someone had responded, at first I was thinking,”What is this? I don’t even remember that!” But, oh well, I enjoy having discussions on music.

          3. Bava Avatar

            From now on — Don’t forget things you put out into the world. LMAO,,,the masses might not understand what is going on. LMAO again.

          4. Joseph Avatar

            While it may not seem complicated to someone who has studied music, it may sound complex to the average listener. You have to remember that pop music is short for popular music, which is mostly average joes. These songs touch people’s emotions, and isn’t that why we all like music? Also, harmonic analysis is great and everything, but you are still taking apart something that somebody else invented. That is like disregarding the invention of a computer just because you can take it apart and identify the parts. Let’s see you write a better song that impacts as many people as what they did. More complex does not equal better. Make a song with only thirteenth chords and diminished chords and do three downward key changes at two step intervals and see if anybody likes it besides a few music nerds. I love jazz, classical, pop, shred, eastern, and many other genres of music, and appreciate complex progressions and scales, but if it doesn’t move me, it is just an exercise in intervals.

          5. neptune1bond Avatar

            The problem with your idea here is that they wrote the song using the same chord progressions and scales created by classical musicians in the first place. There isn’t really much of anything they did that hasn’t already been done before or is all that baffling to anyone. Modern popular music is the same way. Popularity also has more to do with advertising, knowing the right people, and current trends than it has to do with skill or even the ability to touch people on a deep level. If I wasn’t able to write a song that impacts as many people as the Beatles did, it might have more to do with a lack of publicity than necessarily a lack of ability or depth of expression. There’s also this silly idea that a lot of skill and practice of your craft somehow means a lack of expression or ability to connect, which doesn’t really make any sense when you think about it. You’re right that more complex does not necessarily equal better, but if a musician had ten times the musical arsenal of chords, progressions, scales, and rhythms than another, which one will have more of an ability to express exactly what he desires to express. And why would you just automatically assume that people probably couldn’t connect to anything I might do anyways or that my music would sound like an exercise in intervals? Does showing the Beatles to be of average musical skill somehow prove me to be mediocre at my ability to connect to an audience musically? Just because you learn to write a thirteenth chord or two doesn’t mean that you somehow lose the ability to write basic triads and power chords in an effective way.

            You’re right that certain “music nerds” may have a passion for types of music and forms of expression that are unpopular at the moment, but musical trends come and go with the wind. Today’s sensation will be yesterday’s news when tomorrow comes. If the Beatles showed up in a studio today with the musical ability and sound they had, you never would hear of them. And even if they made it on the music scene, do you really think that anyone would buy their stuff? If you do, then you really lack an understanding of what’s actually popular right now. They would fade into oblivion almost immediately. But, let me ask you this. Even if they did show up today and faded into obscurity because of their incredible unpopularity, would you somehow connect to their music less just because they weren’t the popular trend for the month?

            It’s not necessarily that the music that is popular touches peoples emotions in a way that currently unpopular music doesn’t, it’s just that the masses follow trends and learn to appreciate the things that make them feel like they’re “in with the in crowd”. If it’s not what they’re listening to and used to at the moment, then they immediately discard it before they have a chance to connect to it in the first place. Especially with today’s “rebellion culture” (although it’s not really rebellion if everybody’s doing it), people will immediately show extreme disgust with anything that is written in a classical style just because it isn’t “rebellious” enough, not because it doesn’t have an incredible depth of expression and passion. You know, there was a time that lasted for a long while where classical music was the popular music of the day and people connected to it and appreciated it in all of it’s complexity in some songs and simplicity in others. Not to mention that Jazz fusion and progressive rock is not so unpopular right now as all that, which can be sometimes very complex in its own right. And even some pop songs will use complex progressions, chord substitutions, modulations, and thirteen chords and still be incredibly popular. Metal bands are now frequently bringing in full orchestras and having classical musicians come in to adapt the arrangement. In fact, many metal musicians will express that their original love was classical music. In addition, more and more musicians from metal to pop to country to Jazz are coming out of music colleges with advanced degrees and theoretical knowledge. No one is beyond criticism or analysis. Not even the great and magical Beatles (who really aren’t so great and magical, they were just popular for a time). Be careful about jumping on the bandwagon of crucifying the people who might give some insight into the inner workings of the music of your favorite bands and musicians. If we do not analyse and scrutinize what they did, then how can we learn from it and also, how can we pass something worthwhile down to future musicians who would use the musicians of the past as stepping stones to ever greater heights and newer forms of expression? As part of “rebellion culture” there has become a popular trend of “anti-academic” thought where people get this ridiculous idea that a garage musician automatically is “better” than anything a college environment could create. While it’s true that going to college will never guarantee someone to have skill, passion, and an ability to connect to an audience, the very idea that someone who studies in an academic institution is somehow automatically inferior is just kinda downright stupid.

          6. Joseph Avatar

            I never said they invented the chords or scales, there isn’t really anybody who can invent new chords or scales that haven’t already been done. But that is my point exactly, it doesn’t take complexity for music to reach people. Also, I wasn’t the one who claimed it was baffling to somebody with training. Of course it doesn’t baffle you, you explained the composition nicely. I’m just saying that because a trained musician thinks it isn’t complex enough, it doesn’t make it rubbish. Some great advice that I heard is that most pop stars can actually write more complex pieces, but they want to make a good living and therefore have to have a broader audience. The advice was that you can be the best technical player and composer, but you will only play shows to a few shred heads or jazz nuts, or you can tone it down a notch and make a decent living playing to bubbas and teenagers. There are a few exceptions, journey, Stevie wonder, joe satriani, Rush, and a handful more who have great skills and a massive following. Many musicians today also want to make their songs easier to learn for novice musicians who will give their music longevity if they can play them and feel good about themselves.

            I also am not criticizing classical training or the need to know your theory. I love learning new chords and scales! But I also know the simplistic power that two simple chords can have with the right accompaniment and melody. I think for their time, the Beatles did experimental things that other pop artists were afraid to do. Of course jazz blows them out of the water, but that is what jazz is designed to do. I also think that the Beatles were not just bandwagon, because I first heard them in the early 2000s and they sounded great to me, along with many of the new generation. Yes, they have nursery rhyme qualities sometimes, but it is hard to write simple music that people don’t dismiss. If it is so easy to write pop, then write a pop song and sell it to Justin bieber and make a few hundred thousand. I’m sure you can write just fine, but it is tricky to write a pop song that uses a few simple chords, yet people can’t stop singing it. I respect almost all genres of music, except screamo, sure screaming is hard and not everyone can do it, but so is puking up blood, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to either of them.

            There is plenty of room for complex music, and simpler music. You can’t ignore millions of people who love the Beatles. Their music has legitimate power, but that doesn’t discount what Bach or Strauss did. Actually, I think music is to a place where there aren’t many truly new territories to discover. Just new combinations of things already known. We aren’t inventing new chords or scales any time soon without going microtonal, which is too dissonant for me. We can only change styles and instrumentations, use electronic instruments to get sounds not possible with physical instruments. It will be okay, canon in d still sounds good, chick corea still sounds good, Zeppelin, Beatles, John Mayer, Hendrix, bluegrass, Gregorian chant, Vivaldi, Brian Setzer, Coltrane, etc. still have their legacies and charms.

          7. neptune1bond Avatar

            I think you and I essentially agree on a lot of the stuff that matters. The one main thing that I’d disagree with you on is your assessment that I think that popular music is not complex “enough”. Sometimes when a trained musician says,”This is what this is, this is how they did it, and this is the level of training, practice, and skill required to replicate it.”, people will automatically assume that they are “looking down” on it or think it’s somehow “bad” just because it’s more simplistic than some people would’ve liked to believe. It’s like I said earlier, I like The Beatles just fine, I just recognize their music for what it is regardless of my personal opinions. Music analysis is simply that, recognizing music for what it is and how it could be replicated.

            It would be like saying that a mathematician “dislikes” the formula x-3=7 because he says that it’s not as complex or difficult to solve as 4(4x)+2(x)=72. I enjoy all types of music, but I’m also not going to lie and say that certain types of music require the same skill, study, and years of practice to play/perform as others just to massage the ego of the masses or certain musicians. I really do love popular music of all genres, I grew up on the stuff and I still listen to it frequently. It still is what it is, though, and I’m not going to say the Beatles “I wanna hold your hand” is some incredible musical masterpiece just to make people who love The Beatles’ music feel better about their favorite songs. It’s simply a catchy tune that was popular for a time and isn’t nearly so popular any more. I still like to hear it every great once in a while, but if I am supposed to have any intellectual integrity as academic, then I have to tell the objective truth about what something is and not JUST my feelings, regardless of who the truth might offend. If academics didn’t do that, it would be like saying we should throw out entire bodies of scientific study and entire libraries of facts just because a lot of people find it inconvenient or don’t “like” certain truths. If a carpenter says,”It’s really simple to build a birdhouse and this is how you do it. I personally don’t like building birdhouses, but a simple woodworking project I always enjoyed was making storage boxes with lids.” He’s not somehow looking down on people who like to build birdhouses or people who like to look at birdhouses or people who buy birdhouses. He’s simply saying that it’s an easier project than others and that particular easy project isn’t his preference when there are other simple woodworking projects he still enjoys. It’s true that I don’t go crazy over The Beatles music like some people, but there are other pop musicians and music that I absolutely love.

            I think it is important for all people to have a reality check, though, and realize that certain types of music do take less skill, practice, and training than others. This isn’t to make anyone “feel bad” for their preferences or level of skill, but rather so that we can continue to progress as a society and also so that we can all have an ounce of integrity. I’m not even nearly implying that people have to drop all forms of music they enjoy for the more complex stuff, however, pop musicians are only replicating what certain well-trained musicians have already done and making it “consumable” to the masses. If we completely lose respect for and stop supporting those who do try to learn as much as they can so that they can further the field, then we are limiting music as a whole.

            It very well will most likely be trained musicians who will form new types of expression and new ways of conveying emotions through music, and not pop musicians. The way it usually works is that a trained musician makes new ground in the field and a pop musician picks it up much later and makes it more “palatable” to people and it then becomes the new trend. People tend to give all the credit to the pop musician, but all he did was adapt something that’s already been done before. People don’t usually appreciate that fact or won’t even believe it because they get so into their own brand of “hero worship”. It’s like the multitude of movies that are simply an adaptation of some great author that the general public is completely unaware of. If it weren’t for this incredible artist who spent many years honing his skill as an author, the more simplistic movie adaptation wouldn’t really exist for the public to enjoy. By supporting skilled and trained artists who dedicate their lives to their craft, we are also supporting the popular culture of the future. Eventually pop, rock, and country musicians might even find a way to popularize set class theory and maybe even serialism, who knows? But without theorists and composers like Allen Forte, Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, etc. they won’t have even had the chance. Just because the general public can’t really understand or fully appreciate the advanced formulas and theories in physics and science, they should still appreciate that the very cars they drive, the appliances that make lives convenient, the ability to connect to other people over large distances in ever more innovative ways, does indeed come from those people who have dedicated their lives to “overly-complex” fields of study and have spent tireless hours and vast amounts of effort to even make those things possible. Today’s popular conveniences and entertainment came out of the entire life’s work of many people of the past and tomorrow’s popular conveniences and entertainment will come out of the life’s work of the people of today. We should never forget that if we ever want to progress and grow as a society.

          8. Joseph Avatar

            I mostly agree with you as well. The analogies that you used do have varying levels of applicability though. Complex formulas have practical use and application, and reason to be more complex perpendicular to the complexity of the desired outcome. Music is art though, with no practical reason for great complexity other than the desire of the observer. As a musician and writer, I see that complexity can be a competition. How many times have you heard, ” that’s good, but listen to this guy.” I notice that as musicians we always are looking to be fans of the most skilled players or composers. Why? It’s not actually about the music, it’s about assessing skills. We want to know that it is complicated and where we fit in with our skills. Sure some of it sounds good, but I know plenty of people who think long solos get monotonous. I love long solos of different instruments, but is it really because I like the music, or because I like hearing someone’s skill set? I will listen to a solo and think, I can do that, it’s just xyz. Or I hear guys and go, wow I’m not at that guy’s level yet, but I now know what to aim for.

            Non musicians don’t have that desire to seek out complexity as much as musicians, because the skills aren’t as important. They aren’t trying to constantly learn as we musicians are. That is why their taste may be more pure, even if it is more simple, because the ego is out of the equation. I’m not saying complexity is bad, I love it. But it is most likely because I’m a musician who wants to write better, but only to stand out with my skills. I think every musician has that ego, just like every athlete wants to be the best , so they study the greats in search for the skills that set them apart. It then becomes less about if they are good, but about how good they are compared to their peers. Of course competition is good, but nobody acknowledges it in music most of the time. We all silently know it exists. Some of my best friends who I play with, I still want to outdo them, not because I don’t like them, but as a matter of pride. Does it make you a little aggravated when your peer whom you previously considered less skilled than you comes in and plays something they have been practicing, and you think they may be better than you at this moment? I work hard to be skilled, because that is what everyone should do with their craft. I think of it like an architect. You study everything up to domes and weight distribution and spiral building and flying buttresses etc. But when your neighbor hires you to build a normal house, you don’t have to go all neogothic on them, just build a solid house with tasteful embellishments and they will be satisfied. Your friends from school may show you a picture of the complicated building that they made for the city, but while they only get a few mid size projects, you are staying busy and making steady income building solid houses for the masses. Your entire skill set and knowledge don’t have to be on display all the time. And if it is all just about how many chord extensions and substitutions you can put in a piece, then it is just a show of skills.

          9. neptune1bond Avatar

            I agree that the competition and constant reassessing of ones own skills in comparison to others definitely exists for all musicians and artist who desire to improve their ability. I also never was under the impression that my entire skill set and knowledge would need to be on display at all times. I write according to what I desire to express, whether it be within any style from metal to pop to jazz to current classical styles. I disagree with the idea that complexity has no practical application or that simplicity is mainly what would be desired by the general public or that complexity in art is simply for showing off to other musicians and “music nerds”.

            Take, for instance, most movie soundtracks. The majority seem to require trained musicians to write for large orchestral ensembles (many times made even larger with added electronic or more contemporary instruments). These musicians will frequently write in advanced chromatic, impressionistic, or post-tonal styles. If art is only about any simplistic tune that people can snap their fingers to, why would movie business executives invest so much money when the soundtrack is simply background music and is not even the primary concern? Especially when you consider that any business executive’s primary desire will mostly be limiting costs as much as possible to increase profit! It’s because, in movies, the ability for expression that music has suddenly becomes paramount. Suddenly, when music is required to express the entire kaleidoscope of the depth of emotion that humans are capable of, your regular four chord pop song just isn’t enough. The same basic progressions and chords found in every pop song suddenly aren’t very practical to express the necessary fear and discomfort of a horror movie, the mystical sense of magic and wonder in a fantasy movie, and express the longing, love, and passion of a good romance movie. They may throw in some pop tunes to sell soundtrack albums later, but the real emotional workhorse for most movies remains with a skilled composer writing for many different types of ensembles. In fact, they frequently still have the composer for the movie write the catchy tunes and just have a popular musician or band perform it. There are always some exceptions, but this tends to mostly be the case.

            Developing your skills as an artist isn’t just some exercise in futility to boost your ego and compete with other “music-nerds”, it’s about capability of expression. I frequently express this by saying,”How many tools do YOU have in your tool-box”? Different chords, progressions, rhythms, and melodic combinations express different things and will inspire a very different emotional reaction in the listener naturally. If a person chooses not to develop those skills, then they are limiting their ability for expression. There simply is no basic progression of triads and power chords that will inspire the exact same emotion as other progressions and chords might. It wouldn’t make much sense to say that you aren’t increasing your ability for expression with every new scale, chord, progression, or rhythm you learn. It’s not that the general public doesn’t recognize this either. You see, the current level of obsession with pop music has only lasted for around 100 or so years, but before that, the simple AND complex styles of classical music were incredibly popular. The music masters that we study today were the ones that used to fill entire concert halls of patrons willing to spend large amounts for a single seat while folk musicians frequently played on the street corner for coins tossed in a hat. Even then, classical music maintained a lot of popularity through the early to mid 1900s.

            Many people are unaware that the whole reason that the enjoyment and popularity of certain types of music has flipped on its head has more to do with money and business than anything. It is no coincidence that things really started to turn around with the invention of the modern concept of “spin” and “propaganda” in marketing near the early 1900s. Executives in the music business realized long ago that if you could get people to spend the same amount of money towards the music of a four-piece garage band of untrained musicians with the correct amount of PR and the right “image” as opposed to having to hire a full orchestra with many musicians, all trained and very practiced, that needs to be recorded in a large concert hall with many mics and technicians etc., that any savings means PROFIT! Especially when untrained musicians have little expectation of being paid much at first and realize they have no leverage with which to demand a higher pay (considering they are frequently a dime a dozen in their ability) until they’ve actually achieved a large level of popularity. The whole purpose of marketing is to manipulate public perception and opinion, and this is literally the only way they could take a popular progression in music that has lasted thousands of years and completely turn it on its head for the last hundred or so years. People still have an incredible desire to “keep up with the Jones’” and will learn to follow and appreciate most popular trends. What they have to do is convince the public that a certain type of music is popular right now or is “the next big thing” and a “must have” for anyone who is “on the current ‘edge’ of music” and people will buy it. It’s true that people won’t just buy “anything”, but pretty close if it is sold well enough. For most people, it is far more important to fit in with their friends and gain the opinion that they are at the height of fashion (or “cool” or “in the know” or “in with the in crowd”, or “gansta” enough, or “metal” enough, or “rebel” enough, etc., whatever you may call it) than to consider almost anything else. This is why popular trends only last a handful of years, because people suddenly have to re-buy their entire music collection when the trend changes if they are going to keep up and business executives love it! Why else would the trends change so frequently and why would a continual progression of thousands of years suddenly just change? Look at the music of the 1980s, to the 1990s, to the 2000s, to the 2010s. Music that was previously “good” according to public opinion doesn’t suddenly just become “bad” just because trends come and go, although people are convinced that that is exactly what happens. If the current popular trends had some incredible ability to “connect” to audiences that more skilled forms of expression didn’t, then why are the trends of the not-so-long-ago past not as popular as they were just a short time ago? Why aren’t people currently going just as insane to buy Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Elvis, and Judy Garland as they are to buy Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Kanye West, and Lady Gaga? If popular music connects so well to audiences, why do the trends pass and why does the music itself lack any real lasting power in its popularity?

            This is why I make a distinction between “expression” and “entertainment”. Art is about communication, that’s it. What are you trying to communicate? Is your desire to have depth of expression or be really entertaining? It’s true that the two are not mutually exclusive. Many things that are really entertaining have at least some small amount of expression and many things that are incredibly expressive have at least some entertaining qualities, but people frequently have difficulty having a high level of both. It is very possible to be incredibly deeply expressive AND entertaining, but that frequently is not really the case. Interestingly, only one is dependent on an artist’s level of skill and that is the depth of expression. If you aren’t very skilled or studied, then your capability for expression is going to be limited accordingly (just like how you can be limited in what you can build depending on how many and which tools you have in your toolbox and how well you use each one). (Realize that I’m talking primarily about the actual music and NOT the lyrics. You can be an incredible poet and very good with words to express deep emotions, and yet still be a very unskilled and unpracticed musician.) When the focus is on depth of expression, this has the potential to create masterpieces that are timeless and will be studied by future musicians to develop their skill and ability for expression for centuries or even longer. When the focus is on entertainment, it cannot transcend the current fleeting popular trend and the popularity of the work, musician, or band is what is remembered in the future far more than the music itself. So, in other words, entertainment creates a focus on the musician(s) within the trends of the time, and expression creates a focus on the work of art itself and the effectiveness and skill with which the message is communicated. This is the reason why Bach is known more for what he wrote (even hundreds of years later), although few people know anything much about him as a person, but most people know who Louis Armstrong is, even if they may only recognize a couple of his actual tunes only tens of years later (mostly revolving around a holiday or other tradition rather than the actual song itself) although people actually really loved his music back in the day.

          10. Joseph Avatar

            It all depends on what you want your music to do. Radio and everyday listening music is different than movie scores. Scores are just effects to go with the visuals and force emotion. They use more complicated concepts, because dissonance causes fear, uneasiness, brooding, sadness, etc. Most alternate scales and complex chords have a greater level of dissonance in them, and therefore lend themselves to movies, because you have an hour and a half to express many emotions, and need to mix it up. Most people don’t just listen to movie scores while they are driving down the road. I have before, but I am a music nerd and not the norm. Pop music means popular, which shows that most people want a fun positive sound while they make pancakes or hang out with friends. The music functions differently. Nobody can shake their butt to Stravinsky, there are different benefits to modern music. Sure they want a sad song every now and then, with diminished chords or harmonic minor scales or whatever, but the majority of popular music of any genre (except metal or gospel) uses very little dissonance.

            I know that having the most tools helps you build more complex projects. Music education is important. But we can’t lose sight of the pureness of triads and major tonality, there is a reason they are so popular and the default of western music. Non musical people hear it, it’s just that we writers composers and performers want to go further. We practiced it as a child, and it sounds so plain to us, but other people aren’t jaded to it. Besides propaganda and the music business there is another major favor in the phenomenon of pop music, music education. Music education used to be taught with as much importance as other academia. This lead to greater understanding throughout the masses, so they would understand Bach better. Now music education is optional, so there is less of a wide understanding and appreciation for complex musicality.

            It actually doesn’t bother me, because it makes the music business less competitive. After all, if people want to learn music, there are plenty of ways to. It would be like if boat making was a mandatory subject. Everyone would know so much about boats, that only a few extraordinary boat makers would stand out, and nobody could do it for a living, because everyone would make their own boat. The boat market is good today simply because it isn’t taught to everyone. Every kid in America isn’t taught about it, so the ones who seek it out, can make a good living. I like that music isn’t taught in schools as much, because it gives musicians opportunity to make a living and wow people with a few simple chords, or very complex pieces. As opposed to everyone knowing about neopolitan chords and breaking my brain trying to fit chromatic scales in new ways. If kids want to learn music, that is great, take some lessons. But I won’t force the kids who don’t want to play music to have a greater knowledge of music to judge me more and know my craft so well. Once your knowledge is expanded, it is harder to appreciate the simple things. I think it would be a disservice to the average child to take away the joy of music and replace it with an attitude of critique.

          11. neptune1bond Avatar

            I have to disagree with a few things here. For one thing, it really wasn’t that long ago that people used to sing along and dance in their living room to a recording of Turandot, Rigoletto, Le Barbier de Seville, The William Tell Overture, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or the music to The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, etc. There were many classical pieces that were written specifically for dancing or to make you feel happy or get you singing and tapping your toes along with the music. Many of these pieces were complex, simple, and/or everything in between, but they were usually written very well. Many of them were also written in a major key. I realize that none of these are the current trend, and therefor isn’t popular, but it’s important to note that it’s simply a difference in the trend rather than an inability to be fun, positive, or dance-worthy. That’s why, when classical music was still popular, they had a huge trend in neoclassicism and neoromanticism. It was because not everyone wanted to listen to Schoenberg and Webern all the time, so composers wrote in previous styles to satisfy the need for something that wasn’t serialism or post-tonal.

            There also is nothing about overly dissonant music that suddenly makes it complex or even all that well written. In addition, there are other alternate scales other than major and complex chords that still create a fun or positive sound and/or fit right in with a major tonality without disrupting the mood, but still increase your capacity for expression. Besides, there is plenty of pop tunes of all different styles that attempt to create many different moods and emotions that are incredibly popular. Metal is huge, but it frequently tries to create angry, fearful, and aggressive feelings in the listener. Rock kinda stands in between pop and metal and can go one way or another. There are many pop songs that are very brooding, sad, or downright depressing. Country (one of the most popular genres around) is almost known for its “holy crap my life sucks” quality in its twangy nasal tones. In fact, if you are looking for dissonance, then you can find some fairly dissonant music in the metal, progressive, grunge, alternative, and screamo genres, all which are fairly popular today. People do indeed listen to these types of music while driving down the road.

            The point is that people haven’t suddenly lost a taste for expressive, dissonant, or well-written music containing something other than just triads and power chords and the most basic of progressions. They simply want a modern sound and flocked to it willingly when business executives found that they could save a few bucks on unskilled musicians. It probably won’t be long until people get really used to the new timbres and get sick of the same old stuff and start demanding something new (not to mention the need to rebel against their predecessors, and the overly angry screaming crap has already been done). When people want something “new” they’ve always looked to the academics who have already created a new sound that isn’t being used in the popular sphere. The trend throughout history is for new genres to start in simplicity and people eat it up because it has a new sound, then people start demanding something other than the same ol’ crap and musicians have to start upping their game. Look at Jazz for a perfect example. It started out very simply and was the hugest of sensations in its day, and it progressed further and further until we now have an art-form that has simply tried to copy Classical with ever reaching modulations to extended tonal or nearly post-tonal sounding scales and chords. Rock, pop, and country very well might catch up, it just might take a while. I could be wrong, but that is the historical trend and human nature isn’t really so different than it used to be. It could very easily reach a point where the public gets sick of the same thing and music executives won’t be able to placate them with another electronic sound to make the same basic stuff sound new again. People are already showing an unrest, which is why the music genres are so all over the place and the trends lack the cohesiveness they once had. The internet has definitely proved this to be true as people go to every other genre besides your basic Lady Gaga and Katy Perry pop music to search for something else. Simple pop music will always have its place, but we already are seeing a rise of trained musicians in other fields and that trend may continue until all the other genres go in the same way of Jazz in search of the “new sound” (even if the “new sound” is something that has been done, the musically ignorant are going to think that pop, rock, metal, country, and alternative musicians are doing something that’s totally new and ever-so-baffling to those classical musicians, even if those classical musicians predecessors already came up with it in the first place, lol).

            I have to disagree with your “hurrah” of the lack of music education. For one thing, competition is what stimulates quality and growth in any field. I would rather see growth in my field than not have to practice as hard because of an overwhelming mediocrity. For another thing, playing the trumpet in someone’s high school band never really “educated” anyone all that much about music anyways. The reason that people who had taken a music class or two in school could appreciate more classical music had more to do with exposure than that they actually “understood” a single thing they played other than “me see notes, me replicate notes on instrument *grunt*”. Anyone can learn to appreciate, enjoy, or even love just about any type of music with enough exposure, so people would play it every day in band class and learn to like it, then go buy a ticket to a concert or buy a cd, or maybe look into something else by the composer they played in class. The truth is, if classical music was played on the radio with any frequency to rival pop music, it could potentially be just as popular. People like what they’re used to and will continue to like the things they are exposed to most. There’s absolutely no reason that people could be absolutely crazy about something in the past but it just couldn’t be appreciated by today’s audiences. It just doesn’t make sense. It may seem counter-intuitive to believe that classical music could overwhelm today’s pop music in popularity, but that’s only because the current trend isn’t that way. If Beethoven was deemed the “new edgy sound”, appeared on the radio all the time on people’s favorite stations, and was believed by the public to be the most popular thing, then people would probably buy it up and start learning to appreciate just to fit in, if anything. This is why most musicians would practically kill to get their stuff played on the radio, because people will buy almost anything if they hear it enough. This is why certain musicians were popular during the most recent trends in music. It was because they were promoted everywhere and anywhere by music executives, not because they were the most skilled or even the most catchy or fun to listen to.

          12. Joseph Avatar

            I never said they invented the chords or scales, there isn’t really anybody who can invent new chords or scales that haven’t already been done. But that is my point exactly, it doesn’t take complexity for music to reach people. Also, I wasn’t the one who claimed it was baffling to somebody with training. Of course it doesn’t baffle you, you explained the composition nicely. I’m just saying that because a trained musician thinks it isn’t complex enough, it doesn’t make it rubbish. Some great advice that I heard is that most pop stars can actually write more complex pieces, but they want to make a good living and therefore have to have a broader audience. The advice was that you can be the best technical player and composer, but you will only play shows to a few shred heads or jazz nuts, or you can tone it down a notch and make a decent living playing to bubbas and teenagers. There are a few exceptions, journey, Stevie wonder, joe satriani, Rush, and a handful more who have great skills and a massive following. Many musicians today also want to make their songs easier to learn for novice musicians who will give their music longevity if they can play them and feel good about themselves.

            I also am not criticizing classical training or the need to know your theory. I love learning new chords and scales! But I also know the simplistic power that two simple chords can have with the right accompaniment and melody. I think for their time, the Beatles did experimental things that other pop artists were afraid to do. Of course jazz blows them out of the water, but that is what jazz is designed to do. I also think that the Beatles were not just bandwagon, because I first heard them in the early 2000s and they sounded great to me, along with many of the new generation. Yes, they have nursery rhyme qualities sometimes, but it is hard to write simple music that people don’t dismiss. If it is so easy to write pop, then write a pop song and sell it to Justin bieber and make a few hundred thousand. I’m sure you can write just fine, but it is tricky to write a pop song that uses a few simple chords, yet people can’t stop singing it. I respect almost all genres of music, except screamo, sure screaming is hard and not everyone can do it, but so is puking up blood, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to either of them.

            There is plenty of room for complex music, and simpler music. You can’t ignore millions of people who love the Beatles. Their music has legitimate power, but that doesn’t discount what Bach or Strauss did. Actually, I think music is to a place where there aren’t many truly new territories to discover. Just new combinations of things already known. We aren’t inventing new chords or scales any time soon without going microtonal, which is too dissonant for me. We can only change styles and instrumentations, use electronic instruments to get sounds not possible with physical instruments. It will be okay, canon in d still sounds good, chick corea still sounds good, Zeppelin, Beatles, John Mayer, Hendrix, bluegrass, Gregorian chant, Vivaldi, Brian Setzer, Coltrane, etc. still have their legacies and charms.

      3. Eric The Bread Avatar
        Eric The Bread

        I find it more than a little ironic that you describe the Beatles as “fairly competent musicians.” Immediately after expressing your frustration with people who believe that “classical and jazz musicians are somehow baffled by pop/rock music.”

        Of course this is a matter of opinions, but the vast majority music lovers, consider the Beatles to be far more than “fairly competent.” In fact, I have never in my life heard the term “competent” used in the same sentence as the Beatles. You might get away with describing Ringo as a “competent drummer” in terms of his individual musical talent and the sophistication and complexity of his drumming but even then, Ringo was in many ways the ideal drummer for the Beatles, so even calling him merely “competent” is debatable at best.

        You then brag about being able to harmonically analyze “I am the Walrus” completely in ten minutes- the implication being that their music isn’t anything particularly special, amd therefore not baffling to you. I would argue that, while you may be able to write a sound (but incredibly boring) theoretical essay about a Beatles song, you clearly lack the ability to appreciate the very music that you believe you can run circles around. You state that you like the Beatles “just fine,” but that entire sentence, whether you recognize it or not, is effectively a backhanded dismissal of them as serious musicians.
        You could gather the most well-trained and skilled classical musicians and composers in the world, and I would bet the farm they couldn’t produce and or perform music that came close to having the kind of impact on other musicians and music the Beatles had. Neither could they generate the enormous and enduring popularity the Beatles achieved, or replicate the emotional impact their Music has had on fans and musicians alike. Popularity, of course, is not by any means an indication of skill, But the Beatles weren’t just popular; they were a sensation, and also happened to transform popular music (which is what all of the great Musicians of history did to some degree). If you can look at that legacy and still call them “fairly competent” musicians, then You truly are baffled- not by their compositional skills or musical aptitude, but the beauty and brilliance of the songs themselves. Many, perhaps most, musicians might benefit from studying classical music and theory more. You are right that classical or Jazz theory is not by any means “useless” to musicians playing popular styles of music today. Stuck up theorists like you certainly wouldn’t be much help to them, though.

        1. neptune1bond Avatar

          I found your many opinions, assertions, and assumptions to be interesting, but they nonetheless lack any real substance. So, basically you seem to be saying that anyone who does not share your OPINION of the Beatles is somehow “baffled” by their music and could not possibly understand them , not necessarily by any actual substantial or tangible quality that their music possesses that might matter to any other musician, but by some quality of “beauty” (opinion, nothing more) that is simply perpetuated by an unquestionable status they have attained of “*GASP*!! How DARE anyone ever question the Beatles…because…..because….they weren’t just popular, but they were really, REALLY popular and had an impact on popular music and stuff!”

          The actual truth is, you can completely understand the impact someone or some people had on music historically, you can even understand how much what we have today is built upon what that person or people did, you can also have hours and hours of exposure to their creations and learn to appreciate it from every angle, but it still doesn’t mean you will necessarily like it or even love it and it is therefor perfectly valid to like them “just fine” and nothing more. It is true that the Beatles were indeed very popular and had a historical impact, but nonetheless you did hit the nail on the head when you said,”Popularity, of course, is not by any means an indication of skill”. I will not rate the Beatles by some ridiculous stigma of “It is BLASPHEMY to question the Beatles”, but rather by the actual qualities they possess as musicians. I will not rate their skill by their popularity, their impact on pop culture, how well they were marketed, or any other quality that isn’t based *solely* on musicianship. I therefor must take into account technique, style, harmonic complexity, form, execution in writing AND performance, etc. and have found them to be competent as musicians, but they most definitely were not nor ever will be the most skilled musicians around. The fact that you think I’m “stuck up” simply because I have dedicated a large amount of study and practice to my musical skills and you really don’t like that my thoughts differ from yours doesn’t really matter to me nor does it actually demonstrate that my observations are invalid in any way.

          Also, my theoretical analysis of “I Am the Walrus” was not really to demonstrate that I think I’m “better” than the Beatles, but rather to demonstrate to the original poster that there is no music theory that pop musicians use that trained musicians are baffled by and that the progressions are actually nothing all that remarkable. I never understood why any time that someone who has some understanding of a subject actually does a critical analysis of something, people always have to point the finger and scream “pompous” and “arrogant” and “get off your high horse” as though that actually qualified as some kind of argument or refutation or that the accusations had any substance whatsoever. If people didn’t study subjects and ask questions, then where in the heck do you think we’d be today? Whatever I may think about myself, or myself in relation to the Beatles, is completely irrelevant to any observations I may make about the Beatles or their works and was simply an assumption that you’ve made. I hate to burst your bubble, but all music today came out of that same tradition of music that has been in progression for many many years and is not really some undecipherable entity in itself. There is absolutely nothing all that enigmatic about popular music. So, although it may be fun to believe otherwise, music today is not created out of magic, pixie dust, fairy farts, and talent, but it is actually created out of the same notes, rhythms, harmonies, scales, and playing techniques that classical and jazz musicians have been developing and building upon since recorded history up to present day. The truth is that there are no special qualities to music that makes it exempt from the natural laws. If you can understand something, analyze something, and deconstruct it down to its bare bones, then you can also recreate it and even possibly improve upon it. That applies to any other field of study and it also applies to music.

          1. Bava Avatar

            Really — the Beatles fame was created with a nursery rhyme mentality of a world full of inept masses of those who could barely be called human who would be pushed into dying by the millions by one man and his thugs in a thing called war. They are called imbeciles by adepts. Eaters and shitters! A few might arise above those standards and are called polished technicians or politicians or stars by the hollywood type media who control the minds of the imbeciles.

        2. dystopeon Avatar

          calm down guy, the Beatles went from being basically horrible musicians to competent ones – that much is apt. Their “impact” is a function of their popularity, they are the first boy-band. You will find they really didn’t write most of their work and it was actually written by experts under NDA. The same kind of ‘stuffy’ serious musicians you complain about.

        3. Bava Avatar

          The Beatles weren’t very competent about music at all. They were excellent rhyme and reason artists. Bach and Beethoven musics don’t really appeal to 99% of the masses — but, “Hey diddle the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon” nursery rhymes do. Classical music is for educated persons who find quality and use in the specifics of sound in music. In pop, jazz and rock the masses find thoughts of magic and ideas of grandeur which makes them feel their worthless lives are meaningful. Classical music does not strike that note with the masses. Most pop music depends on the Oooo Ahhhh Weee Moooo Moe Toe Foe Haa Haa Yepp Yeep sounds that usually match sounds of meaningless sentences but, do match certain emotions when put together. The Beatles were never musicians per se. They could hardly play their own songs the same each time. A musician such as Jimmy Page who can sit in with any band and being told what key to be in — and take off playing with that band is what a real musician should be able t do. That goes for any instrument. But, the Beatles were indeed nursery rhyme artists that were able to put very colorful mental designs and tone inflections on their words and harmonies. I would put them in the category that the swooners like Dean Martin would go in. He was not a opera singer — but, he knew how to swoon the emotions of the women and being good looking just added to the pictures that women of that era held of life. If it hadn’t been for George being a dedicated guitarist in his craft the Beatles would never had made it big. He could take the musical paint that John would throw on a wall and rearrange it to make sense musically and paint a picture with it. He could interpret John’s words and make music while Paul would do the same with the bass for the beat that was being looked for to match the idea of the song. Ringo — he’d just do what he was told most of the time and keep a very steady beat with his excellent memory of the songs. John’s song as he admitted — were derivatives of songs that other artists had already done and once in awhile he’d chance upon one that he would truly write which he said were about one in ten.

          1. Jeff Avatar

            People actually listen to Jazz? ha ha (signed, a Jazz musician)

          2. SuperTroll Avatar

            Some of what you say is true, but The Beatles could’ve hit it big without George Harrison. What made them great was John, Paul, and George; George Martin, that is. Not George Harrison. But George wrote some great songs. The Beatles are what made George Harrison great. Specifically, him trying to produce at the level of John and Paul, which he finally achieved.

    2. BB Avatar

      You have to be kidding me.

      I grew up playing THE BEATLES. I love their music. (Started playing drums in ’75, guitar in ’77, bass guitar, keys, and mandolin in the 19 0s.)

      You are HANDS DOWN the most snobbish person I have ever encountered on a theory site.

      “Borrowed Chords”? There’s a technical name for borrowed chords AND a formula for borrowed chords that work best based on the interval they are replacing. You have never studied the history of music theory in depth. If you had, you’d know that J.S. Bach and his contemporaries always “borrowed chords” and these progressions have been written about extensively, most notably by Mitchell and Salzer, respectively. Only the most base or minimalistic composers don’t (this does not diminish the outcome of said pieces).

      And Mixolydian? All that name signifies is the mode starts on the fifth interval, whereby the 7th interval is flatted. Playing in Mixolydian does NOT mean you’re playing all 7th chords. You can write a composition in Mixolydian using triads. That’s modal harmony 101. Here we go (capitals are major chords, lower case minor chords):

      V – vi – vii dim – I – ii -iii – IV

      No 7th chords there!

      You want Mixolydian with sevenths?

      V7 – vi7 – vii half dim – I maj 7 – ii7
      iii7 – IVmaj7

      EXACTLY the same as the MAJOR SCALE buy Mixolydian starts on the Fifth interval.

      I LOVE how you say there’s no set music theory standard, and then pontificate until you’re blue in the face and then say only YOU are correct.

      Reminds me of when I was a rock n roll and celebrity photographer in NYC: the ONLY people with the big egos were the stars who were good but not great.

      I taught the CHORD! Guitar app dev theory regarding enharmonic equivalents, etc., but even I have a LOT to learn theory wise, because music theory is an endless chasm and I love music. Your mind is already closed. That’s unfortunate for you.

      Once you think you know, you know not.

  23. mydogiscalledbert Avatar

    Sorry another comment. I re-read an older post, which is very good advise but very old fashioned. To repeat the post it says :

    “When you study music theory, you’ll understand that, there is a pattern that all chords follow, regardless of key. If you took ALL Western music written since the 17th cen., you would find that the roots generally move in three ways:

    up a 4th (same as down a 5th), e.g. iii to vi to ii to V to I,

    up a 2nd, e.g. iii to IV, IV to V, etc. and

    down a third, I to vi, vi to IV, IV to ii, etc.

    In addition, I moves to V and IV to I as they are the pillars of any tonal piece (i.e. the DOMINANTS)
    A couple of semesters in music theory will give you a basic understanding about why all of these things happen.”

    rounded off with the usual snobby “take a course in music” type comment. Now, the root movement analysis stated above is correct and an excellent starting point for understanding diatonic harmony, *but that’s all it is;* it is 100% correct if and only if you think the whole of harmony theory was worked out and completed 300 years ago. Yes, the stuff above is correct, but theory has moved on a bit in the last 300 years!

    In reality , ANY combination of I II III IV V VI VII is possible, and will sound more ‘correct’ if the harmony is chosen appropriately. Yes, Em does sound naturally good if followed by Am or F, as above, but it can also sound good with any other chords – if the melody is chosen correctly.

    A case in point is the Beatles’ song Honey Pie. It goes C Ab7 A7 D7 G7 C Ab7 G7 .
    Now if you just play these chords, the C to Ab7 sounds a bit harsh and Ab7 to A7 is a weird semitone parallel fifths step (which 300 years ago would not have been allowed) but with the melody they composed, sounds fantastic, AND more importantly, 100% “correct.”

  24. munguialma Avatar

    This is really interesting! For someone that doesn’t know anything about music I actually found this really helpful and interesting. The videos were great because they actually showed the common patterns of songs which made it a lot easier to understand.

  25. Theresa Avatar

    It was really fun reading this and learning from this analysis the similarities in songs that most don’t recognize, I will keep my ears open for more similarities, and keep my eyes open for part 3. 🙂

  26. maya_keys Avatar

    But what’s meant by popular music? The Christina Aguilera chords you cited are STRAIGHT out of the decades and decades-old, earliest black gospel music tradition (as is ALL contemporary popular music when you trace it). So I think it’s a little misleading to take the 4-chord rock thing as the model for popular music, because actually that’s a later form of rock and roll that has really denied its blues/gospel roots, hence leaving out most of the complexity that was ALREADY there in the soul/blues tradition, get what i mean? So in the opposition “popular” versus “classical,” it seems you are leaving out the harmonic heart and soul of american music

  27. Alan Hu Avatar
    Alan Hu

    Really awesome stuff. Question–what was done for songs in minor keys? From what’s been posted, it seems like minor key songs/chord progressions have been omitted from the statistics

    Also, it’d be really cool to have a look at chords that follow the V chord in popular music (similar to the analysis completed for chords that follow the iii chord). Despite what classical theory dictates, popular music is FULL of retrogressions that aren’t supposed to work–but do.

    Finally, a more general point: though I think this sort of analysis is really interesting, I don’t think we’re really analyzing this music in the right way. While a lot of popular music can definitely be analyzed with functional harmony (the John Mayer song as a great example), I would argue that a significant portion of popular music is better analyzed with some system of understanding other than the major/minor functional theory paradigm. Here’s why:

    1. Songs with four chord progressions are not really tonal because there are no true cadences in them
    I’m going to make a distinction between four chord/three chord songs and songs with long and more varied chord progressions. While Who Says was clearly written with a functional harmonic framework in mind, songs like Let It Be (I V vi IV) cannot be understood through functional harmony.

    Let’s analyze I V vi IV–all are diatonic chords and there is a sense of where the tonic is. The I to V and V to vi movements are easy enough to understand; however, what doesn’t make sense is why the vi goes to a IV and ends there. If we try to analyze this with classical theory, it would be a four bar phrase that ends on not a I and not a V, but rather a IV. There’s no name for a progression that ends in a IV chord in functional theory. We also can’t explain why there is forward motion between iterations of the progression: IV – I is a weak progression and really shouldn’t provide harmonic motive to continue. Authentic cadences, pretty much a requirement for all songs in classical theory, are nowhere to be seen. We could argue that this progression is just some form of tonic extension repeated, but this can barely capture all the nuance and difference between different four chord progressions. As such, functional harmony is really not a good system for describing pop harmony.

    2. Some four chord progressions are modal:
    Most pop progressions are written in either the major or minor key; however, there’s a lot of stuff out there that departs from the major/minor key system we’re used to using. The I V vi IV progression, for example, is quite clearly in the major key. Florence + the Machine’s No Light, No Light, on the other hand, uses a progression we would usually label as ii IV I V in normal functional harmony. However, if you listen to the song (which is written in the C major key signature), C really doesn’t sound like the tonic for most of it–in fact, it’s hard to pinpoint the tonic of this song but when you do, you’ll find that this song is generally in D Dorian. If we were to rewrite the chord progression in this context, it really should be i III VII IV. Again, this makes no sense in functional harmony which really can’t deal with modal harmonies.

    Roman numerals, functional harmony and the major/minor key paradigm is really a system of understanding European music written in the Common Practice form. While some pop artists who have been trained in this school of thought incorporate harmonies that make sense in a classical way in their songs, many pop songs do not use harmonies that can be analyzed with functional harmony. A lot of popular music is written with a fixed chord progression that does not make sense when analyzed in functional harmony and we lose a lot of the nuance in these songs when using functional harmony to analyze it.

    Awesome site, great analyses and I’m looking forward for more!

  28. Jarred Avatar

    This is very cool! I never thought of common trends with chord progressions in songs!

  29. Alexandria Hooks Avatar
    Alexandria Hooks

    Its amazing on how you can find so many of the same exact chords found in popular songs these days and older songs back in the day.

  30. Peter Yang Avatar
    Peter Yang

    That’s amazing that you’ve taken your time to do all of this and I really appreciate it because this is a great source to read due to all of the facts and visuals. Thank you!

  31. Pangkou Avatar

    I think this article provides great information about chord progressions. It’s amazing how the most popular 4 chords progression can create songs using the same chords with different lyrics and meanings. This is a great place for music studying.

  32. music beginner Avatar
    music beginner

    dont really know about music…but this is amazing…using chord from different kind of songs and it’s like making a new song or a new instrumental…these chord sound so emotion…cant stop thinking about the chord..keep up the good work..

  33. langlor Avatar

    This is surprising to me because I don’t know anything about piano music but i now understand a bit more that most songs uses the same chords in there music just changed with a couple more chords to make it sound different.

  34. Brett Salomonson Avatar

    great website. Fun way to learn about music

  35. Juli Avatar

    This is great! So interesting and helpful. 🙂 I love the I V iv VI medley!

  36. Phil Thao Avatar
    Phil Thao

    Nice site and great work with the analysis

  37. 106558783 Avatar

    Nice job and great information on music theory.

  38. Aj Jones Avatar
    Aj Jones

    Very cool observation, I didnt realize the definite simlarities between past and modern songs. The melodies and rhyming patterns are so much alike, but with different instuments and vocals added to a song it differentiates them to make the similarities almost unnoticable. This pattern obviously works since songs using it have become so popular and it will definitely will continue to be used.

  39. Yoshimano Avatar

    Analyzing popular music both on the harmonic and rhythmic levels often leads to discover how rich and more interesting it can be compared to the well-learnt rules of classic harmony and limiting laws which it is full of. It’s just that most of pop music is commercial music and that in most cases it sticks to tonality, but the fact is pop music is not really tonal, even if it can be broken down into chords. There’s often a modal approach in pieces of pop music, and musicians can virtually do what they want (for the best or worst) without the pressure of a heavy scholar background.

  40. Zhaloo Chang Avatar
    Zhaloo Chang

    Great site and great article. I found this very useful because as a music beginner this can really benefit me to learn more about music. I found the chord progression to be very interesting because I did not noticed the similarities between songs from now and songs from the past. Overall, a very helpful site for me and one I wouldn’t mind visiting again for help.

  41. Zhaloo Avatar

    Great site and great article. As a person who loves music but has very little knowledge about it, I found this very interesting and useful. At least know I know a little bit more. 🙂 Definitely a site that I wouldn’t mind visiting again to use as a helping guide.

  42. […] A statistical study of inversions (slash chords) in popular music. Posted on October 30, 2012 by Dave Carlton Hooktheory develops innovative tools to help people learn and teach music. var addthis_product = 'wpp-264'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true,"data_track_addressbar":false};if (typeof(addthis_share) == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}This article is Part 3 of a multipart series looking at the statistics gathered from 1300 choruses, verses, etc. of popular songs to discover the answer to some interesting questions about how popular music is structured. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2. […]

  43. Alona Dudko Avatar
    Alona Dudko

    Thank you for your research its very helpful and bring a lot of new facts and statistics that I didn’t know before but now I understand much better why music is written the way it is.

  44. brenda Avatar

    overall the website was a great advantage to discover. had really neat full things to learn about. Not know much about music i found it still interesting things to view and learn. really great site.

  45. Jesus Gonzalez Avatar

    Hello everyone. Well after I had purchased this book I have read the first two chapters and I have leaned a lot. From how most of the song that we listen to on the radio use the most popular chords I, IV, V. I also learned that major chords have a sound that is like “rich” and minor chords have like a “sadness” to it I guess you can say. Something that I did not know about was “cadence chords,” these are chords that wrap things up and take you back to like the base chord. I also learned a better and clearer understanding on how transposing a song to be played in a different key.
    I look forward to what is ahead and I can’t wait.

  46. Darlene Vitoria Avatar
    Darlene Vitoria

    I think this article provides very good information. I really do not know very much in music. I do not know anything about piano or chords. I think it provided useful information in regards to the patterns of many popular music that are much alike but with different instruments or sounds added that makes the song sound different or be noticed completely different. Also, many popular songs use the most popular four chords which songs are made but with different lyrics. This is a great site with very useful information.

  47. bsicairos10 Avatar

    I found this being very useful because not only are you explaining the way the chords and harmonies are being used but you show us in videos. I also like how you guys do the comparison with classic music to the type of music that is being herd know. I like how it is explained about the chords and how the letters are being used so that its easier to read and go along to the music. I really enjoyed how as the song was going the chords were following along and i was able to see what was being played. I really like how the music was flowing together harmonically. i really find the videos explain really well what the reading says and makes it easier to follow along not only follow but also play the notes as i follow along as well.

  48. 5582 Avatar

    This is a very helpful website. Being someone who knows very little about piano or the general background of music, this helps some what. I am still a little confused but im sure the more i read, the more interested and knowledgeable I will become.

  49. bryant calderon Avatar
    bryant calderon

    hook theory has been a huge help trying to understand how the chords and
    patterns work together not only to make sound and music but to make art
    in its best. the online version book is vary help to the college
    student now because instead of carrying tons of books one can have it in
    the palm of their hand and take it anywhere they are at and at any
    time. another reason i liked hook theory is because it is inexpensive to
    the student which also helps them out financially. overall hook theory
    not only show me how to understand the theory of chords but helps me
    learn it with music i know and like and now cant wait what else hook
    theory will come up with.

  50. […] una primera parte que ha publicado bajo el título The chords of 1300 popular songs (que tiene una segunda y tercera parte). Allí el autor cuenta cómo durante los dos últimos años ha ido recopilando […]

  51. […] una primera parte que ha publicado bajo el título The chords of 1300 popular songs (que tiene una segunda y tercera parte). Allí el autor cuenta cómo durante los dos últimos años ha ido recopilando […]

  52. C.J. Smith Avatar

    Why are “Who Says” and “I Turn to You” not in the analyses database? Was gonna check something in one of them…

    1. Dave Avatar

      Just added them. Thanks for the heads up.

  53. […] Carlton, Dave. Part 2: I analyzed the chords of 1300 popular songs for patterns. This is what I found. Retrieved from […]

  54. Dayhole Avatar

    These 4 chords are popular because most people are not that smart and have very limited experience in life. And when you’re stupid and ignorant, you don’t got looking for more interesting music than popular music you end up just listening to popular music. 4-Chord pop is popular because of the millions of bumpkins out there.

  55. Roymondo Avatar

    OK … this is just a thought and I’m very much a beginner as a player (tenor uke) and any sort of musical theorist but my love of popular music goes way back to the sixties and beyond. Are popular songs currently much more formulaic in their choice of chords and their melodic ambition/compass? … I’ve just been struggling with Ray Davies’ Autumn Almanac (1967?) … wow … how many chords and how many melodic variations can you cram into one song? Genius that it works so wonderfully and never sounds forced. The Decemberist’s Mariner’s Revenge has a more conventional chord bank but still manages to ring the changes melodically (and manically).

  56. BB Avatar

    The Em to C (or iii to I in general) is weak because Em is the top of the Cmaj7 chord. Even simpler: Em (iii) contains two notes of the C (I) chord. There’s no tension whatsoever. Any cord a third above is going to be weak. A FLAT third above can be a beautiful key change/modulation!

    I’m interested in classical progressions vs popular (popular music from the past century: symphonic music from Baroque to Classical Era). You are classically trained? I’m trying to understand, for example, how Bach chooses to change modes mid phrase. Perhaps you could help me with this?

    A simple example is Air On A G String. Halfway through the ninth measure he plays a G# (my sheet music is in the key of D).

    Anyway, I played guitar for 30 years and then my neck broke 10 years ago. I taught myself how to read and write music so I could write the music down in my head (played by ear before). Now I use a piano app on my phone, plus the CHORD! Guitar app (I taught the dev music theory. I don’t get royalties…this is not spam!).

    Do you have articles on classical (i.e. symphonic) music progressions? Are there motifs that are as popular in symphonic music as say, 1 -4 -5 is to rock, or 2 -5 -1 is to jazz?

    Thank you, kindly!

    1. Manugl Gutierrez Rojas Avatar
      Manugl Gutierrez Rojas

      Dear BB,

      Here is a video with the sheet music:

      What part exactly do you mean? There is no G#.

      There is an E in first inversion (E/G#) in the second measure, which is the dominant of the dominant (E is the dominant of A which is the dominant of D).

      At 1:56 (measure 9), there is a B in first inversion: B/D#. This is the dominant of E minor (the second degree of D).

      These chords — E and B — indeed don’t fit in the key of D major, but they are connected (as dominants) to the chords that are part of the key: A and Em. I suggest you check out the wiki article of secondary dominants:

  57. pepe pepe Avatar
    pepe pepe

    Hi, I can’t play the first example (after the article says “That’s just how it’s done.”).

    I can’t hear that aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” example. I can see the “app” but the only thing it does it’s loading constantly.

  58. pepe pepe Avatar
    pepe pepe

    Anyone else had problems playing the flash player music? Mine keeps loading forever

  59. Nicolas Avatar

    Unfortunality it seems the songs can not be played. There is only a blank area.

  60. Jeremy Georgia Avatar
    Jeremy Georgia

    I have a question: Based on all the most common cords, that appear, in the majority of songs, What is the most likely note, to compliment the majority of those chords? In other words, if you could choose your instrument’s resonant frequency, what would be a good choice?

  61. SuperTroll Avatar

    Is there a similar published analysis of chord usage in songs in a minor key?

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