The Four-Chord Pop Song

At Hooktheory, a music theory blog, they analyzed the chord patterns of 1,300 popular songs to look for patterns. You’re looking at the most-used chords when songs are transposed into the key of C (the most popular key in pop music by a 2-to-1 ratio).

If you know anything about music theory, that graph makes sense. The I-IV-V chords own it. And the Am? That’s the vi, forming a chord progression that has apparently worked for pop music since the 50’s.

Original? No. But hey, everything is a remix.

(via Hooktheory)

Review: Hooktheory

At first, I was a bit hesitant about this website because when I try to learn music theory by myself, there’s a lot of unnecessary for most practical musicians. Their book of music theory for pop music is a great primer for many beginners and intermediate musicians. It’s fairly easy to understand the ‘rules’ of how chord progressions work, in relation to pop music. The downfall is the amount of content, for example it doesn’t go through 7th chords. For under $15 in the iTunes, it isn’t enough for me, but it gives a lot of examples if you’re “pop-literate” because the examples are playable within the book (from my iPad). 

I must say that the cool interface for hook theory’s music editor is actually quite intuitive after reading the quite tutorial. It uses a relative scale, so creating accidentals or other notes other than the 7 (plus octaves above and below) aren’t possible for the melody. But what’s cool is that you can create separate harmony and melody with their divided play area and export your final song into a midi file. For being in Beta, it’s worth a check out. They also have over 1,300 songs archived in this format, though most of the songs aren’t the complete songs, just so you are aware. 

What makes pop, pop?

Chris Anderson, Ryan Miyakawa and Dave Carlton work by day at one of the nation’s premier research labs; by night, they color-code transcriptions of pop songs as part of their side project, Hooktheory.

When the workday ends, nights with Pink, Carrie Underwood, Bob Dylan and Jon Bon Jovi begin. In fact, in over two years’ worth of spare time, the three engineers and longtime friends have analyzed the chords and melodies to more than 1,300 sections of popular songs from countless genres and eras. Then, they sifted through the data for patterns and trends, hoping to develop tools allowing aspiring songwriters to follow suit.

Read more or check out Hooktheory.

This is a great site i found last year which has helped me analysis (& confirm my analysis) of the theory of popular songs. They have a lot of songs analysed but it is by the community so it’s not always 100% create which creates some interesting discussion about the theory behind popular music.

One Trick i found really interesting was the use of the ‘Picardy Third’ by Pharrell Williams in ‘Happy’ which is where for the last chord of a minor progression you play the tonic from it’s major. You’re raising the 3rd in the tonic from minor to major, hence the name, ‘Picardy Third’. Try it out.

Here’s what they say about themselves

Hooktheory develops innovative music theory books, songwriting software, and Theorytabs - tabs that show the theory behind songs.

Chord progressions of 25,000 songs

“The Hooktheory.com database contains analyses of over 25000 songs. These analyses are uploaded by users and allow for all these songs to be analyzed in bulk, as well as individually. This allowed us to  create a Sankey visualization of all chord progressions in the Hooktheory database.”

Read more on amitkohli.com or discuss it on HN.