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.

A Saucerful of Secrets
by Pink Floyd
Rocky Raccoon
by The Beatles
If I Ever Feel Better
by Phoenix
Live Forever
by Oasis
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
by The Beatles
Desperado
by Eagles
Easy
by Mat Zo and Porter Robinson
Penny Lane
by The Beatles
Unbreak My Heart
by Toni Braxton
Blanka's Theme
by Capcom
Genie
by Girls' Generation
You Are Not Alone
by Michael Jackson
Zelda's Lullaby
by The Legend of Zelda
Titanium feat Sia
by David Guetta
Where Are We Now
by David Bowie
Beautiful Stranger
by Madonna
Jump 'N' Move
by The Brand New Heavies
What Is Love
by Haddaway
Space Dementia
by Muse
One Man and His Droid
by Rob Hubbard
Don't Know Why
by Norah Jones
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
by Tame Impala
Mas Que Nada
by Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66
Bottle It Up
by Sara Bareilles
No Surprises
by Radiohead
ET
by Katy Perry
Numb
by Linkin Park
Lovefool
by The Cardigans
The Legend Of Zelda Fairy Theme
by Nintendo
Unfaithful
by Rihanna
Stairway to Heaven
by Led Zeppelin
Virtual Insanity
by Jamiroquai
Don't Talk - Put Your Head On My Shoulder
by The Beach Boys
I Believe I Can Fly
by R Kelly
Take A Bow
by Madonna
Killing Me Softly
by Roberta Flack
Lovely Rita
by The Beatles
Be My Baby
by The Ronettes
Think For Yourself
by The Beatles
Day Tripper
by The Beatles
Michelle
by The Beatles
Boogie On Reggae Woman
by Stevie Wonder
Bohemian Rhapsody
by Queen
Ken's Theme
by Capcom
Black Star
by Radiohead
Mega Man 3 - Snake Man's Stage
by Yasuaki Fujita
You Never Give Me Your Money
by The Beatles
Skyfall
by Adele
I Saw The Sign
by Barden Bellas - Pitch Perfect
My Way
by Frank Sinatra
Sultans of Swing
by Dire Straits
Final Fantasy IV World Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Hello
by Lionel Richie
Final Fantasy Prologue
by Nobuo Uematsu
Thriller
by Michael Jackson
Free Fallin'
by Tom Petty
Canned Heat
by Jamiroquai
She's Always a Woman
by Billy Joel
Downstream
by Braid Soundtrack
Hello Goodbye
by The Beatles
The Legend of Zelda Main Theme
by Nintendo
Something
by The Beatles
Kick the Rock
by Hunnid-P
Locke Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
We Are the Champions
by Queen
Freedom of '76
by Ween
Hard To Say I'm Sorry
by Chicago
Stars Come Out
by Zedd
Rock Your Body
by Justin Timberlake
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
Into The Great Wide Open
by Tom Petty
I Just Can't Stop Loving You
by Michael Jackson
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Never Gonna Give You Up
by Rick Astley
Chrono Trigger - Main Theme
by Yasunori Mitsuda
Ms Jackson
by Outkast
A Day In The Life
by The Beatles
Katamari on the Rocks
by Katamari Damacy Soundtrack
Don't Speak
by No Doubt
Uninvited
by Alanis Morissette
Wonderwall
by Oasis

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.

Teenage Dream
by Katy Perry
You Know I'm No Good
by Amy Winehouse
November Rain
by Guns N' Roses
Katamari on the Rocks
by Katamari Damacy Soundtrack
Easy
by Mat Zo and Porter Robinson
Always
by Erasure
Flower Power - From C64 Frankie Goes To Hollywood
by Fred Gray
Monty On The Run
by Rob Hubbard
Hello
by Lionel Richie
The Legend Of Zelda Fairy Theme
by Nintendo
Downstream
by Braid Soundtrack
Kick the Rock
by Hunnid-P
Fantastic Voyage
by David Bowie
No Surprises
by Radiohead
Hey Nineteen
by Steely Dan
Language
by Porter Robinson
Who Knew
by Pink
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Blanka's Theme
by Capcom
So What
by Pink
Give Me Everything
by Pitbull
Leave It Alone
by NOFX
Emerald Sword
by Rhapsody of Fire
One Of My Turns
by Pink Floyd
The Legend of Zelda Main Theme
by Nintendo
Sakuranbo
by Ai Ootsuka
I See You - Avatar
by Leona Lewis
Karma Police
by Radiohead
It's My Life
by No Doubt
Passion for Exploring
by SoulEye
Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites
by Skrillex
Bohemian Rhapsody
by Queen
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Final Fantasy Prologue
by Nobuo Uematsu
Morphogenetic Sorrow - I Am Zero
by Shinji Hosoe
Ken's Theme
by Capcom
Still Alive
by Johnathan Coulton and Ellen McLain
Your Song
by Elton John
My Grown Up Christmas Wish
by Kelly Clarkson
Final Fantasy VI Boss Battle Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Domino
by Jessie J
Showtime
by Homestuck Soundtrack
Nigel's 'Top of the Heap' 1959 Gibson Les Paul
by Nigel Tufnel
ET
by Katy Perry
Boogie On Reggae Woman
by Stevie Wonder
Titanium feat Sia
by David Guetta
Love Song
by Sara Bareilles
Morning Music
by Konami
Brain Damage
by Pink Floyd
Locke Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Eclipse
by Pink Floyd
Mario Brothers Theme
by Koji Kondo
Pushing Onwards
by SoulEye
The Great Gig In The Sky
by Pink Floyd
Unfaithful
by Rihanna
Yakety Sax
by James Rich and Boots Randolph
Apache - Jump On It
by Sugarhill Gang
Mardy Bum
by Arctic Monkeys
Karkat's Theme
by Homestuck Soundtrack
Final Fantasy IV World Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Ziggy Stardust
by David Bowie
Basket Case
by Green Day
A Hard Day's Night
by The Beatles
Tiny Dancer
by Elton John
Airbag
by Radiohead
Boyfriend
by Justin Bieber
Final Fantasy IV Battle Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Don't Speak
by No Doubt
Don't Talk - Put Your Head On My Shoulder
by The Beach Boys
One Man and His Droid
by Rob Hubbard
Django Unchained Theme
by Luis Bacalov
Videotape
by Radiohead
The Cave
by Mumford and Sons
Where I End and You Begin
by Radiohead
Genie
by Girls' Generation
Ever Ever After
by Carrie Underwood
All Along The Watchtower
by Jimi Hendrix
Nyan Cat - nyanyanya
by PRGuitarMan -Yamaha Vocaloid
The Rock Theme
by Hans Zimmer
Strobe
by deadmau5

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.

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

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.

You Never Give Me Your Money
by The Beatles
Walkaways
by Counting Crows
Hard To Say I'm Sorry
by Chicago
Here Comes the Sun
by The Beatles
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
by Tame Impala
Temple Of Dreams
by Messiah
ET
by Katy Perry
Give Your Heart A Break
by Demi Lovato
Penny Lane
by The Beatles
Strobe
by deadmau5
The Legend Of Zelda Fairy Theme
by Nintendo
No Surprises
by Radiohead
Ziggy Stardust
by David Bowie
Killing Me Softly
by Roberta Flack
One Man and His Droid
by Rob Hubbard
Zulf's Theme
by Bastion Soundtrack
Blanka's Theme
by Capcom
Wonderwall
by Oasis
Ken's Theme
by Capcom
Genie
by Girls' Generation
Creep
by Radiohead
Hey Jude
by The Beatles
I Get Around
by Beach Boys
I Believe I Can Fly
by R Kelly
It's My Life
by No Doubt
Downstream
by Braid Soundtrack
Soviet National Anthem
by Alexander Alexandrov
Hurts Like Heaven
by Coldplay
Rock Your Body
by Justin Timberlake
Canned Heat
by Jamiroquai
Boogie On Reggae Woman
by Stevie Wonder
Fake Plastic Trees
by Radiohead
Locke Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Never Gonna Give You Up
by Rick Astley
Bottle It Up
by Sara Bareilles
Black Star
by Radiohead
Take A Bow
by Madonna
Big Bang Theory Theme Song
by Bare Naked Ladies
Crazy
by Gnarls Barkley
Photograph
by Nickelback
Fantastic Voyage
by David Bowie
Beautiful Stranger
by Madonna
Martha My Dear
by The Beatles
November Rain
by Guns N' Roses
Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay
by Otis Redding
Michelle
by The Beatles
You Are Not Alone
by Michael Jackson
Karkat's Theme
by Homestuck Soundtrack
Stairway to Heaven
by Led Zeppelin
Seven Days in Sunny June
by Jamiroquai
Videotape
by Radiohead
Something
by The Beatles
Wasted Time
by Skid Row
Thank You
by Led Zeppelin
Mas Que Nada
by Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66
She Came in through the Bathroom Window
by The Beatles
Atma Weapon Theme
by Nobuo Uematsu
Easy
by Mat Zo and Porter Robinson
Day Tripper
by The Beatles
Have You Ever Seen the Rain
by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Kick the Rock
by Hunnid-P
Bohemian Rhapsody
by Queen
The Legend of Zelda Main Theme
by Nintendo
Dark Side
by Kelly Clarkson
My Way
by Frank Sinatra
Love The Way You Lie ft Rihanna
by Eminem
Jump 'N' Move
by The Brand New Heavies
This Love
by Maroon 5
If I Ever Feel Better
by Phoenix
Think For Yourself
by The Beatles
Where I End and You Begin
by Radiohead
Lisztomania
by Phoenix
Firework
by Katy Perry
Don't Talk - Put Your Head On My Shoulder
by The Beach Boys
Where Are We Now
by David Bowie
Domino
by Jessie J
She's Always a Woman
by Billy Joel
Skyscraper
by Demi Lovato
Final Fantasy Prologue
by Nobuo Uematsu
Run
by Snow Patrol
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
by The Beatles
If I Could Fly
by Joe Satriani
Titanium feat Sia
by David Guetta
Enjoy the Silence
by Depeche Mode
Be Like That
by 3 Doors Down

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.

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