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"Chord Types Musicians Use Most - Part 2"

Hey everyone, welcome back to Tonal Trends Spotter Stats, “Chord Types Musicians Use Most, Part 2.” If you haven’t watched the first video, you should. But still probably watch this one first, since it has three graph lines, which means it’s way cooler. But not as funny though, because, by popular request, I will be limiting any jokes, and there will be no lame MS Paint drawings to distract from the data this time. But yeah, check out the first video too if you run into any questions about why I organized the data like I did. Or, if you have any other questions, it’s probably covered in the intro to that earlier video.


Alright here we go, you can see that now we’ve separated the data into three tonal categories, represented by these three colored lines: Red for Major, Green for Minors/Modes, and Purple for Blues-rock, sometimes also referred to as the Supermode. And yeah, for now, just take note that I did end up having to lump the songs that weren’t in one of these three categories in with the green minor tonality line. I’m talking about songs in modal tonalities like Dorian and Mixolydian and stuff. But yeah, since these songs only constituted about 1% of the songs, and also because most non major or minor modes are just a note or two away from minor tonalities anyway, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.


Let’s start here by following the graph line that represents songs in Major keys: OK, we got the one chord (I) at 100% usage, then down to two chord (ii) used in close to half the songs, even more down to the three chord (iii) used a little bit more than a quarter of the time, then up to our four and five (IV and V) chords, with our five winning by just about a half a percentage point. And yeah, so remember how it was the other way around in the last video’s graph, like how the IV chord beat out the five chord because of all the bVII’s in the blues-rock tunes being used in place of V chords? Well, yeah, this red line here is just the songs in major diatonics—so yeah, now it’s back where you’d expect it to be. Now, on down to the six chord (vi), still in fourth place. And then again we plummet down to the seven diminished (viio) chord triad. And for extra credit, do you remember from the last video why this chord is so unpopular? That’s right: because it can also be found as the top part of a V7 chord, that’s why! Sounds like this… And yeah, people just tend to play V7s a lot more than they play diminished chord triads built on the seventh scale degree, so if you understand that, you get a sticker.


Okay, now we’re crossing over from the Major diatonics, into the minor “borrowed chord realm,” so watch out for demons and orcs, and also David Gilmore. Okay, not a lot of borrowed ones (i), or borrowed twos (iio) from minor, but the borrowed flat three (bIII) is used about 9% of the time, so that’s cool. Borrowed fours (iv) are clocking in around 4%. Oh, BTW some people call this chord the “Boy Band” chord since it’s used a lot in Boy Band cadences, like: “Ooo girl, with borrowed minor fours.” Okay next the borrowed minor five (v), at around 3%, has also cleared the flat line, in major keys. I actually did an entire vlog about this chord a while ago, as used by the band Paramore, as well as James Taylor, which you should check later out if you wish. It’s in the Spotter Spots Vlog. Okay, and up we go to the borrowed flat 6&7 (bVI & bVII), clocking in at about 15% usage apiece, not bad huh! And I’m guessing the main reason these chords evened out so well, is because of how often they are used together, usually like this, in a cadencial fashion…


Okay, now on to the Secondaries, AKA the “secondary dominants.” But, since they sometimes don’t resolve down a fifth like they’re supposed to, I just like to call them the Secondaries, and use numeral caps instead of the V-slashy bits. I mean, use the V-slashy bits where they are applicable, by all means do, but, in the long run you can call them either. I’m not going to make a big stink about it.


First we gotta highlight the major two chord (II) here, I mean, it’s almost as popular as the diatonic three (iii) chord over here! I mean, if you haven’t been using this chord in your own Songs and Compositions in major, you should start trying it out, right now. Next I want to point out the ‘major-a-fied’, secondary 3, 6, and 7 chords (III, VI, VII) doing their fair share, before the wastelands of chord obscurity kind of settle in. The III, or V/vi as some call it sometimes, is used in about 8% of songs; the VI chord triad, or V/ii, is used around 5% of the time; and the VII, or V/iii is used in about 2% of songs sampled. And speaking of “V of stuffs”, remember from the last video how I included the one-dominant (I7) and four-dominant (IV7), or V/IV and V/bVII chords, as honorary chord-triad types? They clocked in at about 5% and just above 1% usage. Though, in all honesty, they might actually be a little higher, since they are kind of hard to distinguish from their regular major triad selves, if you’re not looking for them. So yeah, I might have missed a few, in my studies, is what I’m saying.


Okay, as far as these misc. chords go, it kind of appears like major uses them more overall than minors or blues-rock, but yeah, it’s kind of hard to tell down at this level. All I know is that these were the ones used enough to make it onto the chart. But yeah they sound like this…


Okay, now let’s look at the minors and modes, represented by the green line: firstly, the reason the minor didn’t bat 100% on its tonic chord here is because, again, I lumped modes in with this line, mainly I’m talking about Mixolydian/Lydian here; Mixolydian/Lydian have a major chord for their one-chords. And, in hindsight, maybe I should have lumped the Mixolydian/Lydian songs in with major instead, but, oh well, maybe I’ll do that later some day if the need arises to be a percentage point or two more accurate, but, as it is now, we can still spot the tonal trends just fine in spite of this little complication. Okay, next, this is big you guys, check out how in minors and modes, the second and third most popular chords aren’t fours or fives but the bVI and bVII chords!


Oh, and for all you kids being like “dude it’s redundant to call VI and VII chords ‘flat’ chords in when you’re already in minor”—well, I realize that, but I just like to call them by their flats so that there’s no chance of confusing them with the major diatonics. You know what I mean? And it’s like, also, when we’re talking about songs in blues-rock or, in terms of the Supermode, it also comes in handy to speak in these more consistent terms, trust me. I mean it becomes almost essential, so if you’re open to seeing it this way, I’d appreciate it very much.


Okay, I think the reason this happens—that the bVI and bVII chords are so popular in their own key, is mainly because in minor keys and modes, Four and Five chords are much more finicky about whether they want to be major or minor chords—in other words, whether they want to stay as natural minor diatonics or whether they want to borrow their major selves from the major mode. And this split difference makes all the difference. See, used to be, way back in the day, when monks and people were first trying to actuate these diatonic systems, four and five chords in minor Aeolian mode were always minor chords. Again, that’s called Natural minor.


But then people like Bach and Mozart and those guys started using these new sounds we now call “harmonic minor” and “melodic minor” scales, which if you don’t know, are these scales that change the minor 7th scale degree for the “harmonic” minor, and then the 6th and 7th scale degrees for the “melodic”, to their major counterparts, which in turn makes the minor iv and v chords into majors, and badda big badda boom, you’re borrowing chords from the Major Ionian Mode just like borrowing tools from Bob Villa, if he was your neighbor, that is. So yeah, one more thing about fours and fives being more switchable, or borrowable in Minor is: if you look closely you can see that fives, in minor keys, like to be major a good chunk more than they like to be minor, and the reverse is true, to a fairly similar scale, for four chords. So yeah, take that for whatever worth you will. I mean, for my part, I think that’s the main reason why music colleges make you play the Harmonic Minor scale instead of the Natural minor scale for your exams and juries, because people use it more.


But alright, next, look over here, the borrowed from major minor two (ii) chord gets played almost twice as much as the regular diatonic diminished two (iio) over here. And that’s also something you should be aware of, as a spotter of tonal trends in music theory and songwriting. And, nothing too crazy-go-nuts about the secondaries in Minors and Modes, just a pretty even spread of major IIs, III, VI’s, and—looks like major chords built on that harmonic minor scale’s major-seventh scale degree leading tone seem to be pretty well used, wouldn’t you say? Interesting. Here listen… spooky cool, you should try it sometime if you’re a songwriter, or chord arranger.


OK misc., actually I changed my mind from before—at least for this: look at the flat two (bII) chord here, minors and modes are loving this chord almost to the tune of 8% usage, that’s pretty noteworthy; usually you’ll hear it in Phrygian type sounds, next to the root, like this…


Alright, the last line we have to explore is: the Blues-Rock, funk-hip-hop-supermode-etc., purple line. And, I don’t know why I didn’t think to make this line blue, because, you know:  “blues”-rock. But for now, I’ll just say that it’s because I’m from Minnesota, and so is Prince, and he uses this tonality a lot, and that’s why.


First thing to mention is that, yes, “minor” blues tonalities were indeed lumped in with the more Major biased Blues tonalities. This is why neither major one (I) or minor one (i) chords reach the top. But, the thing is, songs in blues-rock or supermode keys are more in the blues-rock supermode tonality than they are in specifically Major or Minor tonalities, so that’s where they go for now. If someone smarter than me comes along later and convinces me otherwise, I’ll change my tune, I ain’t too proud. It was kind of a 60/40 decision anyway. And, maybe even someday, when I have more data, I’ll separate out minor blues-rock into a fourth line. But for now, it really doesn’t affect the data too much, so let’s just get on with our video.


Alright, mostly we get our one-chords from the major in the blues-rock supermode. Not a surprise. Then we just nosedive, down here to two minor (ii) and three minor (iii); so yeah, not too well used, as you can see. Then we go back up to the major four chord (IV), almost as popular as major one. Then it dips down about 15% percentage points for the major five (V) triad. And—one more time—that is most likely due to the V chord being dropped in favor of the  bVII over here. Like check it out…


Anyways, over the years, what we see is that bluesers, rockers, funky people, hip hop people, or any of the genres that use supermode, they started thinking, that like “flat-seven” (bVII) chords were just as awesome as five (V) chords, maybe even more so. I mean, you can make your own theories and decisions about why that is, I know I have mine. Basically, I’m not trying to tell you what’s cool and what’s not, just what’s trendy and what’s not trendy. Okay, the minor six chord (vi), not a popular blues chord either, but more popular than ii and iii over here.


Alright, on to minor blues, here goes the minor one-chord (i) hovering at like 15% usage, which means basically that around 15% of the time, songs in Blues-rock are more minor than they are major. Incidentally, I found that it was most often the more funk genre blues-rock songs from the survey that preferred the minor one to the major one chord. Just thought I’d point that out. Secondary chords in blues aren’t too common, except the II (V/V) guy makes his fair share of appearances, at a little under 8%. And last I want to address something you may have noticed: and that is, that overall, the purple line is kind of droopy when compared to the others, like there might be some chords missing or something. But yeah, all I’d chalk that up to is the fact that a lot of the songs in the Rolling Stone 500 survey that I put in this category were just like: whole songs just jamming on the blues scale and one or two chords, where there really wasn’t a good justification for picking out more complex chord progressions from riff motifs. I mean, there are always implied chord progressions with these kinds of songs, but sometimes it’s just like, “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.“ You know, like that. And it’s like, in my opinion, it’s pretty subjective whether we should be labeling all those different ‘yeahs’ as belonging to their own implied chords.  And that’s just my humble opinion, it’s not like a fact or nothing.


Okay, well, that’s it! If you want, you can press pause on your player and spend some time playing through this chart with your keyboard or guitar, or, oboe. Maybe you could try out some chords that you don’t often use, eh? Also, if you’d like to transpose to another key other than C, so that you can see what the chord types are in the 12 other keys, there’s a handy helpful little transposition chart, next to this video as it is embedded on its watch-page at proper. So if you’re not already watching it there, click the link below to find it.

And last, if you liked this video, please don’t forget to join our mailing list, and to press all the buttons you click when you like things on the internet; I would appreciate it so much. Alright, see you next time for another Tonal Trends dot com music theory and songwriting Vlog! Thanks!



Tonal Trends Chords used most transposition chart CTMUMP2