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I analyzed the chords to 1300 songs for patterns. Part 3 – Interactive Discovery (hooktheory.com)
195 points by davec on Mar 14, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

1. Start with any key.

2. Look up the relative minor.

3. Go one step to the right and/or one step to the left in the Circle of Fifths. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_fifths

There, you have the most popular and pleasant-sounding chord progressions in any key. If you want funkier progressions, go further in the circle.

Edit: The chords sound more jazzy when you go counter-clockwise (it is the circle-of-fourths). Thanks for the correction, @gnaritas.

The circle of fifths and fourths are the same circle. Clockwise is a fifth, counterclockwise is a fourth.

It's more like it's a circle of both fifths and fourths, in both directions.

For example, C-G is a fifth if you go up, or a fourth if you go down. C-F is a fourth if you go up, or a fifth if you go down. So it can be a circle of fourths clockwise or counterclockwise.

Circles don't have up and down. :) Going clockwise is always a fifth, counterclockwise is always a fourth.

Circles don't, but intervals do. If you start at middle C (C4), you can go up to G4 to get a fifth or down to G3 to get a fourth. Ergo C-G can, in the abstract, be thought of as a fifth or a fourth.

I think what you are trying to say is that going clockwise gives you successive dominants, while going counterclockwise gives you successive subdominants.

> Circles don't, but intervals do.

Great, but we're discussion the circle of fifths and fourths, not the intervals. You've moving the goal post. A fifth and a fourth are the same interval, but in the context of a key they are not, thus the circle is only fourths in one direction. You can't decide if an interval is a fifth or a fourth without knowing the key.

> I think what you are trying to say is that going clockwise gives you successive dominants, while going counterclockwise gives you successive subdominants.

I'm not trying to say it, I said it.

Pick any note on the circle, it's fifth (dominant) is directly clockwise and it's fourth (sub-dominant) is directly counterclockwise. Counterclockwise is always the fourth of the note you're moving from.

> The chords sound more jazzy when you go counter-clockwise (it is the circle-of-fourths)

As a side note, movement by fourths sounds more jazzy or "warm" because the interval of a 4th is itself a "warm" sounding interval. So if you want a warm sounding chord, slap a 4th in there.

In practice this often means adding an 11th (an octave above). So let's say you have a standard C7 chord (C E G Bb), if you want to make it sound jazzy/warm then add the F above.

If you want to demonstrate how warm a 4th is (or to get the feel for any interval) stack them up and play them together - C F Bb Eb

That might be the clearest explanation of the circle I've read.

It bothers me a bit when people link this to 'explain away' pop music.

It's my belief this is an oversimplification - many of these songs are written in different keys, which can create different sounds and feelings of songs. Sure, you can transpose them to a common key (as they've done here), but at that point, it's not really the same song anymore. Also, I've found that chord progressions can be quite flexible if only 'snip-its' of certain songs are being used, namely the standard chorus or verse. Much of the genius of songwriting comes in transitions or bridges.

I'm not denying this is not entertaining, and it works to an extent, but I would say that there is a degree to which this hinges on the widespread renown of these songs. It's not so easy to say they would have become so popular if they were all written in the same key, and not the one of the original artist.

Pop music is frequently spoken down upon, that it's 'talent-less' or 'garbage', but it really is like any other expert discipline - if it were so easy, there wouldn't be such a saturation of experts dominating the field. My opinion most of the talent is in production - Dr. Luke, Red One, Max Martin, etc.

> Pop music is frequently spoken down upon, that it's 'talent-less' or 'garbage', but it really is like any other expert discipline - if it were so easy, there wouldn't be such a saturation of experts dominating the field.

Pop music and folk songs use common chord progressions with variations for the simple reason that such songs are easy to pick up and play. To that end, pop music is the opposite of an expert discipline, it is a form that is accessible to people who want to play music. That doesn't mean that a pop song can't be complicated or have lots of technical finesse, but that wouldn't be the typical kind of pop song people play.

Pop resolutely is an expert discipline, but the expertise is of a type that many classically-trained musicians barely register.

Skilled musicians tend to be timbre-deaf; In addition, classically-trained musicians are invariably groove-deaf. They mentally process melody and harmony very efficiently, which is tremendously useful but inevitably means discarding a lot of musical information that is highly meaningful to the lay listener.

If you listen with a musician's ear to most pop records, you hear a simple melody, a simple chord progression, maybe some simple harmonies, all at a fixed tempo and time signature. If you listen with a pop songwriter's ear, you hear hooks and earworms and prosody, you hear a perfectly honed and polished lyric and a melody that carries the meaning of that lyric without a wasted beat. If you listen with a producer's ear, you hear the product of sixty years of evolution in creating sonic landscapes that sound big and rich and engaging on anything from a nightclub soundsystem to a pocket radio.

In pop production, you've got to grab someone's attention in ten seconds, engage them in thirty seconds and move their emotions in three minutes. When most of your potential listeners are scarcely paying attention, that's fiendishly difficult. Pop has it's own virtuosi, an elite of songwriters and topliners and producers who can tell a story and convey a feeling with haiku-like efficiency.

Listen closely and you'll hear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JipHEz53sU

You've said what I've been trying to articulate for a long time - in much better terms than I ever could. Thank you!

I like the dichotomy of songwriter vs. producer - but I would guess it isn't always so discrete - i.e., production and mastering is essential to conveying the emotions and moods of the songwriting. In fact, I would argue the lyrics are often overemphasized in analysis - they are more of a vessel for tones and cadence of the song.

Also relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdxkVQy7QLM

I don't think it's in the list of songs analyzed here, which is unfortunate.

If you start with a minor chord and always follow the most likely chords, you end up having the exact chord progression from the song. They were right after all.

Indeed. This blog just reaffirms what this video shows, that C G Am F (or Fmaj7) is an infectious chord progression.

This is awesome, but I kind of wish that it matched progressions with progressions.

Right now, if I give it I V vi IV, it'll show me "Complicated" by Avril Lavigne. While that song does contain those chords, in that order, they function very differently - because the actual progression is vi IV I V.

This is something we considered.

Part of the problem is that sometimes when people analyze a section of a song, they include a pick up, etc. Other times the song doesn't have a strong resolution, so it's not clear where a progression begins or ends.

We thought this was the best compromise for now. The tool will show you all songs that start with the progression, as well as songs that use the progression in a phase shifted manner (which is also interesting).

Makes total sense. I figured it was due to practical limitations, and wasn't just an oversight.

Thanks for the reply. And for making this. I'm a huge fan.

Though a bit more on the "actual implementation" side of things, there's an Australian group called "Axis Of Awesome" who did an interesting song called "Four Chords". It shows the use of a set of four common chords in a lot of different songs.


This is exactly what I thought about when I saw the article :)

... and still nobody wrote 'Pachelbel' yet. :-)

I consider the fundamental chords in progressions to be tetrads (seventh and sixth chords). Triads are nice in their ambiguity as to where they are going (and their sonic simplicity), and when a seventh or a sixth note is added, it generally tells you where the chord is headed.

EGs: I I I6 V V V V7 I vs. I I I Imaj7 IV IV IV IV6 I

Sixth chords move up a fifth, seventh chords move down a fifth. (the seventh of a chord falls, the sixth rises - one can also view the IV7 chord in blues music that moves to the I to be a IV+6)

The fundamental tetrad concept introduces the idea of "homophonic chords" - for example, a major sixth chord and a minor seventh chord have the exact same pattern, and the designation depends on context. Often, two designations exist in a superposition until it is settled later on (or never).

Also interesting is chordal metamorphosis, where for example a subtle shift in notes can modulate you into a new mode -for example, V morphing into III7 by chromatically altering a note, taking you from major mode to relative minor. (and this particular V III7 change is a nice way to make a strong chord change when stuck on an already strong chord) EG: Hallelujah - |I |IV V |vi |IV |V |III7 |vi |

Music theory is a very interesting topic, and I've arrived at models that do a pretty good job of explaining the underworkings, allowing me to appreciate the beauty of songs analytically as well as emotionally.

It's sort of like analyzing the moves to 1300 chess games for patterns. The good stuff is when you go off-book.

First of all - great job! :-)

When I search for any song, I only get the chord progressions of an excerpt, not for the whole song. Question: do you have the chord progressions for the whole song stored?

If yes, why don't you show them? It would be great to use in a fake book...

If no, what did you normally chose? Verse, Chorus? Sometimes the musically most interesting things happen in the Bridge... Why didn't you find the full progression - just for time reasons? I think if you have mostly Chorus progressions, it's quite difficult to deduce general statistical information about "all of popular music", wouldn't you agree?

Thanks! All analyses on Hooktheory are in done in sections. Analyses load one section at a time. Since songs (well, most songs) repeat the same harmony in each verse / chorus / ... it made sense for use to use the section approach. One the Trends page the section that loads is the one that matched the chord progression you searched (if multiple sections of the same song match, we omit them from the song list). If other sections of a song have been analyzed, there are buttons just below the title so you can see them.

10/10, not least because MIDI export has been added to the editor sine the last time I looked. Now if only there were some way to redirect the MIDI under Windows 7 to something other than the Microsoft Wavetable synth, like an external MIDI port so I don't have to hear everything on that bad piano...

One minor thing is that there could be a better way to browse by songs than just the top 10 and 10 most recent. Most of my searches come up empty, so I'd like some way to browse the list of songs for something I do like rather than to keep drawing blanks.

You can see the more recent and most popular analyses at www.hooktheory.com/analysis

I know, but it only shows the top 10 of each (which is what I was referring to above). I grew up listening to mostly British music in the 80s, but that's underrepresented in the database - so I searched for the Smiths, Pet Shop boys, and several other bands from that period without getting any results at all.

Sorry. We used to have a way to show more than the top 10, but it seems to have been disappeared. I'll make sure that gets added back to make browsing easier.


Doesn't work for me either. I wanted to do this with midi files (after transposing them to a common key). And apply some dimension reduction on top (LSA). Never got around to do it.

Fantastic work, I love it. The results I get are sometimes surprising. I play mostly folk, country and blues so it's always surprising how irreverent a lot of pop music is when it comes to progressions. Also, I don't see the "big II" hardly at all. Playing the major II instead of the minor ii is fairly common at jams I've been to but maybe it's because a lot of people don't know minor chords, throw in the major instead and think it sounds good.

A bit on a same note (pun intended), Jim Pavloff has uploaded to YouTube some cool videos, where he re-creates some of the tunes by The Prodigy based on the listed samples, e.g. Voodoo People (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZYLp5uX9Yw) and Firestarter (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZImvdZ3EZI)

Reminds me of the great scifi short story Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson, which examines how perpetual copyright would negatively impact music (there are only so many novel melodies that are pleasant to listen to): http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200011/0671319744___1.htm

Getting errors on:http://ec2-54-234-254-65.compute-1.amazonaws.com/analysis

seeing this.. include(User.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory Click play to enjoy a little slice of awesome. Be sure to check out Rick Astley's dance moves in the video...

Thanks. The mirrors were throw up quickly to handle the load and; that link that led you to the analysis area was overlooked.

Being a big fan of discovering music I love the approach! Would love to check this out if it isn't hammered right now. :)

Is the raw data available?

The "Rel" option uses relative notation for easy transposition. Nice!

I couldn't get it to work in Firefox (20 beta).

I couldn't in Chrome on linux either (Version 25.0.1364.152), looks like they've lost their site for the time being, have to check back later.

Hey everyone, I'm a Hooktheory developer. Site is back up. We are also setting up mirrors. Will post them shortly.

It now works in FF and Chrome.

The visualization is really, really neat, but I can't help but feel the three part article was Music Theory 101 proven with a little math and data.



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