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The same melodic sequence appears in a surprising number of recent pop songs (qz.com)
118 points by woodpanel on Aug 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Linked from the article, Axis of Awesome's 4 Chords: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgFrVqUXS8I

Wow, that's hilarious. One of the ut comments has the list of songs.

Also known as the Pachelbel rant:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOlDewpCfZQ This is a better video of the same. The 4 chord 'coincidence' is crazy!

There are two things that needs to come in western pop music to kind of renew it : oriental tuning ( quarters tones, like you can hear in indian or chineese music), but this one may take a while because ot actually sound like a bad note if you mix it with our scales. And the second is non conventional time signatures, meaning different than 3/4 or 4/4.

The only popular song i know which has a different beat is "money" fromp pink floyd, which is a 7/4 and sounds good. So it is possible to use at least this new time signature.

Music thankfully isn't driven by musical technicality. You can have great music which fits into 4/4 and the western scale and still sounds fresh. Music doesn't need to be "renewed" in the way you describe.

That being said, there are far more examples of pop music outside 4/4, 3/4 and the western scale out there than just Time by Pink Floyd. To give some of my favourite examples...

Alice In Chains - Them Bones (I believe this is in 5/4): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTuD8k3JvxQ

Perfume - Polyrhythm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbiSxunJatM

The Marty Friedman cover is pretty good rock interpretation if you don't like J-Pop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE5zhVPOcZA

Dream Theater - Learning To Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VigPPJ6j40

To get an idea of the time signatures involved in Learning To Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfWdOBYk6g4

Don't forget Apocalypse in 9/8 from Supper's Ready by Genesis.

I'm not forgetting anything, I was talking about my personal favourites, there are plenty more great songs in time signatures other than 4/4 and 3/4.

I'm not actually implying you were, I just needed a thread to attach my personal favorite odd time signature example to and you had a great list going. We could do one of those cheesy "Best Of ____" anthology CD box set commercials that come on TV after midnight. 'Irregular time signature hits of the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and today!' ;)

Oh okay then, my mistake. :-) Thanks for your box set suggestion. ;-)

I wonder if we'll allow some African cross-rhythms in this boxset. If we did I'd suggest Foolish Harp/Waerera by The Bhundu Boys:


You want time signatures? I'll give you time signatures :-)


(Rush, La Villa Strangiato live)

In fairness, "listening" music and dance music are different beasts, though (and rightly so). This ain't dance music.

The Mars Volta uses plenty of unconventional time signatures and scales and they've managed to get played on the radio and MTV, so there's at least one modern popular band that pulled it off. I wish it was more common.

time signature: Golden Brown by the Stranglers. It's got a bit that's arguably 13/4 (actually 3 * 3/4 plus 1 * 4/4) but it's delightfully quirky

And then there's Take Five by Dave Brubeck that I think even some of the younger people still recognise.

Actually maybe this just shows I'm an old fart

I don't think you listen to enough pop music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGL2rytTraA

Non-conventional time signatures are much more difficult though, because then everyone has to learn how to dance differently. Unless you're Bulgarian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESGWuxnDbXs

Fair number songs use other time signatures.


Many more play with the 8-bar structure.

But don't hold your breath for oriental tuning. I don't see any reason why that would ever catch on. ick.

> "But don't hold your breath for oriental tuning. I don't see any reason why that would ever catch on. ick."

I can understand your personal preference. That said, I think the ear is more adaptable than you might think, I've found myself enjoying music that employs microtones. To give one example, here's some Turkish music played on microtonal guitar:


Listening to that, the microtones remind me of bends on guitar solos in popular Western music. So maybe we don't officially use them, but I think they do appear more than we might realize.

Yeah, quarter note bends are common in blues guitar, and by extension blues-rock and rock. This video gives a simple introduction to what these sound like:


As another example, honky-tonk piano can be out of tune compared to standard piano tuning:



There's also been some Eastern influence on the vocals of Western singers. For example, Jeff Buckley talked of being inspired by the Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Here's Jeff Buckley covering a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan song:


Seems like they just reinvented the lute.

There's a reason no one but Sting plays it.

Thanks for the link. One remark thoug / I've looked at some song from famoust bands, and i saw things like "3/4" or 6/8 ( which was in fact more like a 4/4 with strong 1 and 3 hits, filled with a ternary drum pattern) , flagged as unusual time signature... The other were indeed made by famous artists ( such as bjork) but the songs themselves weren't popular... Anyway, let's hope people continue to try. You'd probably need to invent a dance for the thing to catch on in pop music.

Jazz has been doing much more ambitious things for decades now, it's scary to see how long it can take for "mainstream" to cacth up..

> "Jazz has been doing much more ambitious things for decades now, it's scary to see how long it can take for "mainstream" to cacth up.."

You are really missing the point of music. Music isn't something that only reaches its pinnacle when it's at its most complex. Technical excellence isn't the high watermark of great music. The only thing that matters in music is how it makes you feel.

Also, simplicity can be deceptive. Take a listen to this k.d. lang song:


Listen to how natural her vocal sounds, how well it fits the song and the lyrics, how she varies her vocals based on what she's singing. Skill with phrasing is the hardest to teach because it comes with musical awareness, but when you listen to someone with great phrasing it can bring a whole piece of music to life.

So instead of talking about what music "should be", share what you enjoy, and not just what you enjoy on an intellectual level, what you enjoy for what it conjures within you. What music do you enjoy?

the "point" of music ? to me music is an art form,like painting. So you may say that the goal of painting is to have something pretty to put on your walls, which is indeed one way to look at it, but painters usually think of some higher goals.

now, if pop music was vibrant and renewing itself constantly, i wouldn't have said anything, but as OP shows, it is kind of dying artisticaly..

> "but painters usually think of some higher goals."

Whilst some artists may be satisfied with the concept itself being the artistic statement, the highest art is all about eliciting a emotional reaction from the viewer, otherwise what's the point of creating the painting? If you want to look at it from the point of view of skill, the hardest skill to master is to create art that can communicate to the viewer without explanation, where the reaction to the art is the experience, rather than the explanation of the art being the experience. The best visual art communicates something that you can't easily express with words. It's the same with music.

> "now, if pop music was vibrant and renewing itself constantly, i wouldn't have said anything, but as OP shows, it is kind of dying artisticaly.."

I've been listening to pop music long enough to be sure it's not dying in the way you describe, it moves in cycles. Trends rise in popularity, get played to death, and new trends arise. You see it all the time in pop music.

I think you misunderstand the tendencies of mainstream music. It isn't that it is lagging behind, in fact looking to the past you see much more complicated and interesting song structures.

The more likely scenario is that pop music or mainstream music has trended away from anything too complicated. Aiming instead for reproduceable hits and music that is as least alienating as possible.

Every now and then an interesting song will make it to the pop stations, but it is rare.

Not to worry though, because you need only scratch past the surface to see that the music world (not industry) is alive, vibrant and more diverse and complex than ever.

See-Saw by Pink Floyd has constantly changing time signatures throughout the song. Much of Golden Brown by the Stranglers is 3x3/4, then 4/4 (so 13/4).

The only 1/4 tone trumpetist Ibrahim Maalouf is now quite recognized in Europe. Check his discography if you don't know his music

I know, i've heard him and it became kind of a gimmick ( but it's still great nonetheless). He's still considered as a jazz musician though.

In truth, I was hoping that with the trend of electronic music escaping the world of harmony more and more and reaching toward pure "tone" /timbre + rythm music, pop would try and grab ideas from there. But it takes time i guess..

Not nearly as maddening as DJ Mustards "Hey hey hey hey" sample.


You do not have to listen to what's on the radio or in the mass media. Plenty of other music exists. It is just a matter of accepting being spoon-fed with soup or going on a hunt for the thrill of discovering a unknwon trio from wherever in the world that has made some truly innovative or different music. It is just a matter of consumer choice, just with like everything else (food, drinks, books, movies, etc.)

Oh, I beg to differ. I don't have to listen to the crap at home, in the car, or in my headphones. But I'm assaulted by it during a few commercials, in autoplay videos, in movies, in bars. Luckily it isn't the fashion to play music in stores here like it was in the states: There, I got assaulted by it at work. For hours and hours. It was quite a blessing working nights and being able to turn off the freaking music.

But for the most part, you are correct. And all folks have to do is have a couple of listens to different sorts of music to get over the hump. After that, it becomes much easier to enjoy. I still listen to some mainstream or quasi-mainstream stuff at times.

Sidenote of interest: There was a small movement of surrealist rap.

Great place to start and it doesn't require a subscription:


The netlabels section [1] has plenty of random and interesting songs to listen to.

[1] https://archive.org/details/netlabels

And for a slightly more modern twist, folks are taking the stuff from that, mixing it, and making new music from it. My spouse is one of those people.

Absolutely. I mostly live in a wonderful bubble, devoid of heys, whoops, and the sound of drowning rappers.

But, being as common as it is, I cannot completely escape it.


Pachebel canon in D is also found everywhere: https://youtu.be/JdxkVQy7QLM

It's a minor third, which is probably the catchiest interval.

You hear it a lot in school playgrounds. :)

you can easilly kill the The Millenial Hook earworm with a single dose of New Millenium Cyanide Christ :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A_tSyJBsRQ

However it is still plain old 4/4 stuff in meshuggah, despite the impression...

Thanks, man, that was good for a laugh. Definitely wiped out any memory of "canonical" chord progressions from my recent auditory memory. It's like "bulk erase" for auditory memory :-)

(I guess I'm more of a "prog/symphonic metal" guy than a screamo/"cookie monster metal" guy, though)

Ha! I never looked up "the official video" for that song before.

I think the guitar riff is the part using odd timings in that one. (since the rhythm guitars are almost percussive)

This is an interesting observation, but it's poorly contextualized, and becomes rather trite in the context of modern trends in melodic construction.

His attempts to contextualize this are not lacking: there's a hint at the minor third's use in schoolyard songs, a quintessential reference to the overtone series (the God of the gaps of armchair music theorists!) an appeal to Bernstein's The Unanswered Question (which is, sadly, for all its visionarity, bordering on irrelevance in the light of the intervening four decades of research on music perception), the quintessential appeal to the overtone series). There is no attempt to understand why the 'whoop' sounds good in songs, or how it relates to other trends in music. The mere identification of a pattern provides little insight into its usage and meaning. But who doesn't enjoy a few digs at the formulaic nature of pop?

Let's look at an example, from the article "Good Time". There's actually far more information density in pop music than is assumed.

Specifically, let's focus on the use of the 'whoop' as a way of delineating chorus activity. The article identifies the 'whoop' at 0:04, but this card-collecting example-finding behavior hides its main usage in the song.

A major 6-5 scale degree pattern predominates in the verses of "Good Time," often to start a phrase ("Woke up"; "What's up") or nested inside of other melodic patterns. Many phrases are ended with a descending 3-1-6, outlining a minor triad (or 1-6-5). All of these patterns avoid closure on the tonic, allowing for smooth elision into the next sentence.

To end the first half of the verse, Owl City uses a 3-5 pattern (the inverse of the 'whoop') at 'inside my head', followed by Jepsen humming 5-3-1, a foreshadowing of the 'whoop' in the chorus.

The 5-3 pattern takes over in the chorus. This fundamentally transforms how the 6-5 patterns at the ends of phrases are perceived. In the chorus, they are no longer a way of avoiding closure during the rapid declamation of the verses. They are fully subsumed as little moments of relaxation in between 'whoops' of freedom, joy, summer...in short, the joys of being a Millennial.

Among the myriad trends and styles that have enjoyed their moments of fame in the history of pop, the most notable is likely the tension between melodies and chord progressions based on the minor pentatonic scale (roughly, blues, rock, etc.) and those based on diatonic scales (arguably, the major pentatonic is stylistically aligned with this side). Different stylistic elements have predominated at various points in time.

There has been a resurgence in the popularity of certain diatonic patterns (especially those based on the diatonic major scale) in the past ten years. The 5-3 minor third is particularly useful as a bridge between the pentatonic and diatonic worlds. The 'Millennial Whoop' is no doubt an outgrowth of that trend. There has also been a trend for choruses to focus on the fifth scale degree, often in a higher pitch range than the surrounding verses (this is not remotely new, but in the past, was more identifiable by the use of V chords rather than melodic construction around the fifth scale degree).

As an example of the 5-3's usage elsewhere, Adele's Someone Like You, with its soulful roots and pentatonic construction, exemplifies many of the trends that are picked up in the 'whoop'. She starts many phrases in the verses with a descending 5-3 minor third, then moves to a higher pitch range for the chorus...with a few anguished (decidedly not feel-good and 'whoopy') minor thirds (e.g. "I beg"). (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CGuafoq3T4)

No - the songs a very close.

Similar beats, genre, production values, upbeat, bubblegum themes, and then you have the 3-5 whooping by a 'chorus of teens' or whatever.

It's very, very similar. It's a thing. And it's sad.

Yes, it's a thing. But similarity is no reason for sadness. One could make a similar argument about design patterns.

The important question to ask is, "what ways are there of making music sound appealing to as many people as possible on the first listening?"

Convergent solutions will arise, just as in the case of design patterns.

It's not the similarity that bothers me, it's the general craziness of it all.

I've never listened to any one of those songs in the article's videos. I don't know who most of those authors even are. I'm fine with that.

Hooray! Someone else has noticed it and given it a (pretty good) name! I can stop banging on about it. I would actually expand it to include a particular style of gratuitous vocalization that doesn't use this specific interval/pattern.

Pop music today is full of what I've started calling "tropes", of which this is the most glaring. The action of all of them is to make it unlistenable.

This is not a millennial thing. V-III-V arrangements have been in pop music forever.

Yes, but not as a meme.

And not generally howling like that.

It's definitely a thing.

This happens almost every summer for a few months. Pop musicians are thieves. This year we had even 2 themes being used all over, the second a special reverse guitar riff.

How does Milky Chance fit into this conversation?

Most of these songs are not written by the millenials that perform them

Oh, so that's why all these songs fucking suck.

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