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What Makes Something Popular?

September 24, 2012

Over the past few years I’ve become acutely aware of patterns:  patterns that people replicate in their lives, patterns in nature, and patterns in music.  We live in a world interwoven with patterns so I guess it’s not surprising that they show up in our artistic and musical preferences.  But still I wonder, what makes a particular pattern rise to prominence at a particular moment in time?  In recent music, I’ve noticed an increased use in the heavy use of a similar sounding electronic synth.  Check out the songs below — I tried to link to the exact moment when the artist uses the synth.  Three different bands, three different types of music, yet three similar sounds…

I tried to google “patterns in popular music” and I came across this interesting post noting the chord patterns of approximately 1300 popular songs.  It’s kind of a long post and I haven’t finished reading it myself, but even some of the comments are interesting!  The question of what makes a particular musical sound or device popular at a given moment in time might be something that I explore further in future blog posts.

I’ll leave you with an animated video from a music professor talking about Patterns of Popular Music.


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  1. This reminds me of a few things actually. I have also noticed a pattern in chord progressions in music. One of the things this reminds me of is the Pachelbel Rant. If you search it in YouTube it will show up. Anyway he talks about how every song in any genre has the same four chords which is what struck me while reading your post. Also there is a group of guys and they go on singing a bunch of songs that fall in to one another almost seamlessly.

  2. erinm85 permalink

    Wow that is awesome at the end when he plays all of the songs that use the Pachelbel Cannon in D chord progression hahaha!! It’s hard sometimes those chord progressions embed themselves in your brain. I was helping a friend write a song and all of a sudden I realized he was playing the chord progression from the Gin Blossom’s “Hey Jealousy” and he was like “damn you subconscious Gin Blossoms!”. That stuff just gets inside your brain and sneaks into your work hahaha!

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