Chord And Melody Metrics

Chord Complexity

How do we judge a chord to be more or less complex? A good way to understand complexity in chords is to start with the seven most basic chords in any key, the so-called “primary chords.” These are the seven chords that are featured in the Hookpad chord palette and taken together, represent the majority of chords found in popular music.

Colored blocks showing chords in C Major

Each chord above contains 3 notes and is built from degrees of a scale skipping every other note. For example, a C chord has the notes C, E, and G, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the C Major scale.

Notes in C major making C major chord

There are fundamentally two metrics that we consider when judging the complexity of a chord relative to the basic ones above. The first is whether the chords contains additional notes beyond the 3 that form the primary chords described above. Adding notes to a chord increases its complexity because it increases the number and nature of intervals or note interactions that our ear must process. A Cmaj7 chord, for example, is similar to a plain C chord, except it has an additional note: B. In addition to the intervals C — E, E — G, C — G, we now have twice as many when we add C — B, E — B, G — B. The nature of the intervals is changed as well; C — B is called a 7th (as there are 7 notes counting from C to B along the scale), and this interval didn’t exist previously. 7ths are more dissonant than the 3rds and 5ths of the plain C chord, and so our ears perceive this as more complex. Other examples of chords with extra notes are Sus2/Sus4 chords, and add9, 9th chords. Songs that have these chords in them will be judged to have more chord complexity than one that does not.

The second factor we look at is whether a chord contains notes that lie outside of the scale of the song's key. Our ears naturally expect to hear notes in the scale so chords with non-scale tones tend to sound more exotic and complex. Chords that do this are often called borrowed chords because they are using tones they’ve “borrowed” from a different scale. For example, in the key of C major, the 4th chord is normally an F major chord. If instead, we consider the key of C Minor, the 4th chord is an F minor chord. Using an F minor chord in a chord progression that is in the key of C major will sound more complex because our ears simply aren’t expecting it (the same is true for using an F Major chord in a song that is in the key of C Minor). Other examples of chords that contain non-sacle tones are secondary chords, and chords with certain non diatonic alterations (#5, b9, etc.).

Browse songs with above average Chord Complexity

Click on the following songs in to see their chords and melody in the TheoryTab database.

One Man and His Droid
by Rob Hubbard
The Great Gig In The Sky
by Pink Floyd
Colin Zeal
by Blur
When I Was Your Man
by Bruno Mars
Monty On The Run
by Rob Hubbard
Where Are We Now
by David Bowie
She's Always a Woman
by Billy Joel
Bring Me To Life
by Evanescence
Boogie On Reggae Woman
by Stevie Wonder
I Can't Get You Off My Mind
by Miss Li
Easy
by Mat Zo and Porter Robinson
Enjoy the Silence
by Depeche Mode
Beautiful Stranger
by Madonna
Final Fantasy VI Boss Battle Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
Numb
by Linkin Park
A Saucerful of Secrets
by Pink Floyd
A Day In The Life
by The Beatles
Katamari on the Rocks
by Katamari Damacy Soundtrack
Take A Bow
by Madonna
Killing Me Softly
by Roberta Flack
Don't Know Why
by Norah Jones
The Chain
by Fleetwood Mac
Final Fantasy IV World Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Final Fantasy Prologue
by Nobuo Uematsu
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
by The Beatles
Don't Speak
by No Doubt
A Hard Day's Night
by The Beatles
I Believe I Can Fly
by R Kelly
Downstream
by Braid Soundtrack
Zelda's Lullaby
by The Legend of Zelda
You Are Not Alone
by Michael Jackson
Live Forever
by Oasis
Day Tripper
by The Beatles
You Never Give Me Your Money
by The Beatles
Bohemian Rhapsody
by Queen
Uninvited
by Alanis Morissette
Fantastic Voyage
by David Bowie
I Saw The Sign
by Barden Bellas - Pitch Perfect
Never Gonna Give You Up
by Rick Astley
Hard To Say I'm Sorry
by Chicago
Michelle
by The Beatles
Brain Damage
by Pink Floyd
Chrono Trigger - Main Theme
by Yasunori Mitsuda
Be Like That
by 3 Doors Down
Canned Heat
by Jamiroquai
I Want to Hold Your Hand
by The Beatles
ET
by Katy Perry
Be My Baby
by The Ronettes
Ken's Theme
by Nintendo
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
by Tame Impala
Thriller
by Michael Jackson
Before He Cheats
by Carrie Underwood
Dark Side
by Kelly Clarkson
This Love
by Maroon 5
Mega Man 3 - Snake Man's Stage
by Yasuaki Fujita
Hello
by Lionel Richie
Virtual Insanity
by Jamiroquai
Gangnam Style
by Psy
Stairway to Heaven
by Led Zeppelin
Locke Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Blanka's Theme
by Nintendo
Something
by The Beatles
Think For Yourself
by The Beatles
Hey Ya
by Outkast
Stars Come Out
by Zedd
Unbreak My Heart
by Toni Braxton
Desperado
by Eagles
Rock Your Body
by Justin Timberlake
Penny Lane
by The Beatles
Sultans of Swing
by Dire Straits
Lovefool
by The Cardigans
Don't Talk - Put Your Head On My Shoulder
by The Beach Boys
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Space Dementia
by Muse
The Legend of Zelda Main Theme
by Nintendo
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Theme
by Chuck Lorre
Rocky Raccoon
by The Beatles
I Just Can't Stop Loving You
by Michael Jackson
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Freedom of '76
by Ween

Melodic complexity

A melody, at its heart, is a sequence of notes sung or played with specific timings. In “Western” music — a label that describes the bulk of popular music — melodies are based on 7-note scales called “diatonic” scales, like the Major or Minor scales. Whether these scales are simply cultural artifacts stemming from centuries of music doing it this way or rather they are derived from something more fundamental (falling naturally from the laws of nature) is a topic of continued debate.

In either case, it’s almost certain that most of the melodies that you know by heart are based on the 7 notes in one of these scales. For this reason, melodies that use notes outside of the scale create an added complexity. Often these “non-diatonic” notes create dissonance that isn’t available within the normal diatonic notes and require more care in creating a melody that is coherent. In Hooktheory's color notation, non-diatonic notes are labeled with hashed colors.

colored blocks showing a melody in Hooktheory notation

Melodies can also have rhythmic complexity. Notes that are timed with the beats of a song are often perceived as more natural, whereas notes that occur off of a main beat (an “off-beat”) sound more rhythmically complex. Melodies that rely on a large number of off-beat rhythms are called syncopated, and can often give a song a more complex, groovy feel.

colored blocks showing a syncopated rhythm in Hooktheory notation

Browse songs with above average Melodic Complexity

Click on the following songs in to see their chords and melody in the TheoryTab database.

Who Knew
by Pink
My Grown Up Christmas Wish
by Kelly Clarkson
Videotape
by Radiohead
Karkat's Theme
by Homestuck Soundtrack
So What
by Pink
Because Of You
by Kelly Clarkson
So Small
by Carrie Underwood
Fake Plastic Trees
by Radiohead
Enjoy the Silence
by Depeche Mode
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Levon
by Elton John
The Great Gig In The Sky
by Pink Floyd
Locke Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Give Me Everything
by Pitbull
Hello
by Lionel Richie
Uninvited
by Alanis Morissette
Best Of You
by Foo Fighters
I Gotta Feeling
by Black Eyed Peas
Strobe
by deadmau5
Tiny Dancer
by Elton John
Ever Ever After
by Carrie Underwood
Blanka's Theme
by Nintendo
Karma Police
by Radiohead
One Man and His Droid
by Rob Hubbard
Love The Way You Lie ft Rihanna
by Eminem
One Of My Turns
by Pink Floyd
Flower Power - From C64 Frankie Goes To Hollywood
by Fred Gray
Call Me Maybe
by Carly Rae Jepsen
No Surprises
by Radiohead
Breathe
by Faith Hill
Crazy
by Gnarls Barkley
Katamari on the Rocks
by Katamari Damacy Soundtrack
Ziggy Stardust
by David Bowie
Monty On The Run
by Rob Hubbard
Smells Like Teen Spirit
by Nirvana
Kick the Rock
by Hunnid-P
Domino
by Jessie J
The Cave
by Mumford and Sons
The Legend of Zelda Main Theme
by Nintendo
Mario Brothers Theme
by Koji Kondo
Unfaithful
by Rihanna
Always
by Erasure
Hysteria
by Muse
I Can't Get You Off My Mind
by Miss Li
Where I End and You Begin
by Radiohead
Stop Crying Your Heart Out
by Oasis
Nigel's 'Top of the Heap' 1959 Gibson Les Paul
by Nigel Tufnel
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
ET
by Katy Perry
Leave It Alone
by NOFX
Real World
by Matchbox 20
Teenage Dream
by Katy Perry
I See You - Avatar
by Leona Lewis
Love Song
by Sara Bareilles
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Basket Case
by Green Day
Annie's Song
by John Denver
Airbag
by Radiohead
Eclipse
by Pink Floyd
Your Song
by Elton John
The Legend Of Zelda Fairy Theme
by Nintendo
All Along The Watchtower
by Jimi Hendrix
Titanium feat Sia
by David Guetta
Final Fantasy VI Boss Battle Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Downstream
by Braid Soundtrack
Django Unchained Theme
by Luis Bacalov
Want You Gone
by Jonathan Coulton and Ellen McLain
Ken's Theme
by Nintendo
Take A Bow
by Madonna
Still Alive
by Johnathan Coulton and Ellen McLain
Too Late To Apologize
by One Republic
Don't Speak
by No Doubt
She Will Be Loved
by Maroon 5
Be Like That
by 3 Doors Down
Language
by Porter Robinson
Easy
by Mat Zo and Porter Robinson
Mega Man 3 - Snake Man's Stage
by Yasuaki Fujita
Bohemian Rhapsody
by Queen
Nyan Cat - nyanyanya
by PRGuitarMan -Yamaha Vocaloid
Brain Damage
by Pink Floyd
The Rock Theme
by Hans Zimmer
Genie
by Girls' Generation
Sakuranbo
by Ai Ootsuka
This Love
by Maroon 5
It's My Life
by No Doubt

Chord-melody tension

When a melody is played over a chord progression, their interaction is one of the most important aspects of a song. When a note in the melody is contained in the chord, (for example, the melody note C over a C Major chord, which contains C, E, and G), it creates a sense of stability. If this note is not contained in the chord (for example, the note D over a C Major chord), it creates a sense of instability and tension. In many examples in using Hooktheory notation, you can show which notes are contained in every chord by clicking the "Guides" button. Shown below is a simple chord progression with stable notes highlighted in the note region.

colored blocks showing a chord progression and stable melody notes

Tension, in moderation, is a good thing in music. Melodies that stick to only stable notes over their chord progressions (think “Twinkle Twinkle”), may sound safe, but they are also not very ambitious. On the other hand, melodies that use only unstable notes will sound dissonant and cacophonous. The middle ground involves crafting melodies that intentionally build and release tension at all the right moments.

Browse songs with above average Chord-Melody Tension

Click on the following songs in to see their chords and melody in the TheoryTab database.

Someone Like You
by Adele
In The End
by Linkin Park
Guile's Theme
by Nintendo
Say My Name
by Destiny's Child
Don't Stop Believing
by Journey
Cooler Than Me
by Mike Posner
Dreaming With A Broken Heart
by John Mayer
Smile Smile Smile
by My Little Pony
Summertime
by Kenny Chesney
Katamari on the Rocks
by Katamari Damacy Soundtrack
California Gurls
by Katy Perry
Who says you can't go home
by Bon Jovi
The Chain
by Fleetwood Mac
Take Care
by Drake
Let's Go
by Calvin Harris
Payphone
by Maroon 5
Karkat's Theme
by Homestuck Soundtrack
When I Was Your Man
by Bruno Mars
Breezeblocks
by Alt-J
Turn Me On
by Nicki Minaj
Malaguena
by Blast
Kick the Rock
by Hunnid-P
Rolling In The Deep
by Adele
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Theme
by Chuck Lorre
Hold It Against Me
by Britney Spears
Ghost Of Days Gone By
by Alter Bridge
Animal
by Neon Trees
Firework
by Katy Perry
Dark Side
by Kelly Clarkson
Lust For Life
by Girls
A Long December
by Counting Crows
Mardy Bum
by Arctic Monkeys
Skyscraper
by Demi Lovato
So In Love
by Cole Porter - Ella Fitzgerald
Domino
by Jessie J
Whistle
by Flo Rida
Already Gone
by Kelly Clarkson
Uninvited
by Alanis Morissette
Canned Heat
by Jamiroquai
Haven't Met You Yet
by Michael Buble
Epic Sax Guy
by Epic Sax Guy
Girlfriend
by Avril Lavigne
Never gonna leave this bed
by Maroon 5
Before He Cheats
by Carrie Underwood
I Gotta Feeling
by Black Eyed Peas
Like A Rolling Stone
by Bob Dylan
That'll Be The Day
by Buddy Holly
Wild Ones
by Flo Rida
Turn Around
by Conor Maynard
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
by Death Cab for Cutie
Blanka's Theme
by Nintendo
On The Floor
by Jennifer Lopez
Everybody Talks
by Neon Trees
Somebody That I Used To Know
by Gotye
Black or White
by Michael Jackson
Come On Get Higher
by Matt Nathanson
Say Yes
by Elliott Smith
November Rain
by Guns N' Roses
Enjoy the Silence
by Depeche Mode
Last Friday Night TGIF
by Katy Perry
Starlight
by Muse
Rock Your Body
by Justin Timberlake
Like A Prayer
by Madonna
Ass Back Home
by Gym Class Heroes
Duele El Amor
by Alex Syntek and Ana Torroja
All American Girl
by Carrie Underwood
Super Bass
by Nicki Minaj
Fantastic Voyage
by David Bowie
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Temple Of Dreams
by Messiah
Iris
by Goo Goo Dolls
Realize
by Colbie Caillat
Airplanes
by B o B ft Hayley Williams
Super Hexagon Theme 1
by Chipzel
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
The Show Goes On
by Lupe Fiasco
Walt Graces Submarine Test January 1967
by John Mayer
Doctor
by Homestuck Soundtrack
It's My Life
by No Doubt
Want You Gone
by Jonathan Coulton and Ellen McLain
We Run The Night
by Havana Brown
She Will Be Loved
by Maroon 5
The Scientist
by Coldplay
Smells Like Teen Spirit
by Nirvana
Lights
by Ellie Goulding
Boyfriend
by Justin Bieber
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Skyfall
by Adele

Chord progression novelty

You’ve probably heard a song somewhere and thought to yourself, “this song sounds just like this other song I know!” With a limited number of chords in the universe, it’s inevitable that the same chord progression is going to be featured in multiple songs. Chord progressions are only one part of a song, and there’s absolutely no reason not to reuse effective ones.

At Hooktheory we keep detailed statistics on the most commonly used chord progressions and chord changes, and we are always impressed to see songs using familiar chords in creative and exciting new ways.

Browse songs with above average Chord Progression Novelty

Click on the following songs in to see their chords and melody in the TheoryTab database.

Black Star
by Radiohead
Killing Me Softly
by Roberta Flack
Genie
by Girls' Generation
Bohemian Rhapsody
by Queen
Hurts Like Heaven
by Coldplay
Bottle It Up
by Sara Bareilles
So Small
by Carrie Underwood
Malaguena
by Blast
Desperado
by Eagles
Enjoy the Silence
by Depeche Mode
Hey Jude
by The Beatles
Karkat's Theme
by Homestuck Soundtrack
Temple Of Dreams
by Messiah
Soviet National Anthem
by Alexander Alexandrov
She Will Be Loved
by Maroon 5
Rocky Raccoon
by The Beatles
I Get Around
by Beach Boys
Thank You
by Led Zeppelin
Virtual Insanity
by Jamiroquai
I Believe I Can Fly
by R Kelly
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Eye Of The Tiger
by Survivor
Tiny Dancer
by Elton John
My Way
by Frank Sinatra
She Came in through the Bathroom Window
by The Beatles
Martha My Dear
by The Beatles
Rock Your Body
by Justin Timberlake
We Are the Champions
by Queen
Never Gonna Give You Up
by Rick Astley
Give Your Heart A Break
by Demi Lovato
Domino
by Jessie J
Locke Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Run
by Snow Patrol
If I Ever Feel Better
by Phoenix
November Rain
by Guns N' Roses
Stairway to Heaven
by Led Zeppelin
Photograph
by Nickelback
Uninvited
by Alanis Morissette
Where I End and You Begin
by Radiohead
Skyscraper
by Demi Lovato
Lisztomania
by Phoenix
Eclipse
by Pink Floyd
Creep
by Radiohead
Walkaways
by Counting Crows
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
The Legend Of Zelda Fairy Theme
by Nintendo
Easy
by Mat Zo and Porter Robinson
Here Comes the Sun
by The Beatles
The Legend of Zelda Main Theme
by Nintendo
Hard To Say I'm Sorry
by Chicago
Don't Know Why
by Norah Jones
Blanka's Theme
by Nintendo
Ken's Theme
by Nintendo
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Only a Northern Song
by The Beatles
Wonderwall
by Oasis
Day Tripper
by The Beatles
Beautiful Stranger
by Madonna
Home Sweet Home
by Motley Crue
Be Like That
by 3 Doors Down
Strobe
by deadmau5
A Day In The Life
by The Beatles
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
by Tame Impala
Have You Ever Seen the Rain
by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Monty On The Run
by Rob Hubbard
You Are Not Alone
by Michael Jackson
She's Always a Woman
by Billy Joel
Final Fantasy Prologue
by Nobuo Uematsu
Love The Way You Lie ft Rihanna
by Eminem
ET
by Katy Perry
Wonderboy
by Tenacious D
The Veldt
by deadmau5
Take A Bow
by Madonna
Kick the Rock
by Hunnid-P
Penny Lane
by The Beatles
Love Song
by Sara Bareilles
No Surprises
by Radiohead
Fantastic Voyage
by David Bowie
One Man and His Droid
by Rob Hubbard
Boogie On Reggae Woman
by Stevie Wonder
Where Are We Now
by David Bowie
Wasted Time
by Skid Row
Videotape
by Radiohead
Don't Talk - Put Your Head On My Shoulder
by The Beach Boys
Michelle
by The Beatles

Chord Bass Melody

Every chord has a bass note, which is the lowest note in the chord. When the bass notes defined by a chord progression ascend or descend in a stepwise manner (like C → D → E), it creates an additional layer of continuity in the progression that helps it flow. But creating a chord progression that is effective in its own right, compatible with the melody, strikes a good balance of chord-melody tension, AND has an ascending or descending bassline can be a tall order. Crafting chord progressions that do this is an art, and at Hooktheory we enjoy marveling at the brilliance of some songwriters who manage to put all of these pieces together simultaneously.

In Hooktheory notation, chords are colored by the color of their bass notes, so chord progressions that have stepwise ascending or descending bass melodies will follow a rainbow pattern.

colored blocks showing a chord progression with an ascending bass line

Browse songs with above average Chord-Bass Melody

Click on the following songs in to see their chords and melody in the TheoryTab database.

Lights
by Ellie Goulding
You're Beautiful
by James Blunt
Can't Help Falling In Love
by Elvis Presley
Realize
by Colbie Caillat
100 Years
by Five For Fighting
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Theme
by Chuck Lorre
Rimushotto Bungie Jump
by Frog Fractions Soundtrack
Baby One More Time
by Britney Spears
Breathe
by Faith Hill
Levon
by Elton John
Come On Get Higher
by Matt Nathanson
I Don't Want To Miss A Thing
by Aerosmith
All Along The Watchtower
by Jimi Hendrix
Stairway to Heaven
by Led Zeppelin
Walt Graces Submarine Test January 1967
by John Mayer
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
She's Always a Woman
by Billy Joel
Can You Feel The Love Tonight
by Disney
Where Are We Now
by David Bowie
Desperado
by Eagles
What a Wonderful World
by Louis Armstrong
Say My Name
by Destiny's Child
When You're Gone
by Avril Lavigne
Teenage Dream
by Katy Perry
Before He Cheats
by Carrie Underwood
Nothing Else Matters
by Metallica
Say Yes
by Elliott Smith
My Way
by Frank Sinatra
California Gurls
by Katy Perry
Memories
by David Guetta
Hard To Say I'm Sorry
by Chicago
Virtual Insanity
by Jamiroquai
Tik Tok
by Kesha
Everything I Do
by Bryan Adams
Thank You
by Led Zeppelin
The Road And The Radio
by Kenny Chesney
Home Sweet Home
by Motley Crue
I Can't Help Falling In Love
by Elvis Presley
All American Girl
by Carrie Underwood
Defying Gravity
by Lea Michele from Glee
ET
by Katy Perry
The Show Goes On
by Lupe Fiasco
You Shook Me All Night Long
by ACDC
All My Life
by K-Ci and Jojo
I See You - Avatar
by Leona Lewis
Living On A Prayer
by Bon Jovi
If We Hold On Together
by Diana Ross
Be Like That
by 3 Doors Down
Sultans of Swing
by Dire Straits
Because Of You
by Kelly Clarkson
Your Song
by Elton John
Ass Back Home
by Gym Class Heroes
My Heart Will Go On
by Celine Dion
Free Bird
by Lynyrd Skynrd
Mardy Bum
by Arctic Monkeys
Tiny Dancer
by Elton John
Take A Bow
by Madonna
Dust In The Wind
by Kansas
Bring Me To Life
by Evanescence
Piano Man
by Billy Joel
Whataya Want from Me
by Adam Lambert
Good-bye Baby
by Miss A
Out From Under
by Britney Spears
Smile Smile Smile
by My Little Pony
Breakaway
by Kelly Clarkson
Ever Ever After
by Carrie Underwood
Push
by Matchbox 20
Let's Go
by Calvin Harris
Rolling In The Deep
by Adele
November Rain
by Guns N' Roses
Somebody That I Used To Know
by Gotye
Take Care
by Drake
Want You Gone
by Jonathan Coulton and Ellen McLain
Come On Over
by Christina Aguilera
Soviet National Anthem
by Alexander Alexandrov
Jupiter
by Ayaka Hirahara
Lean on Me
by Bill Withers
Annie's Song
by John Denver
Haven't Met You Yet
by Michael Buble