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"Disney Song Stats Part 1 - Intro and Melody"

Hey there and welcome to the Song-Statistics video blog. Today we’re starting a 5-part series about songs from the Movies, TV shows, and Amusement Park Rides of Disney.


So like, check this out: did you know that the most common tempo used in Disney Songs is 106bpm? What about that the most common modulation is to modulate up a M2? Next, did you know that the least common tessituras, or vocal ranges for melodies within a M6 to two octave range are a m7th and also a M13th? And when it comes to Verse-Chorus-Bridge and all that, Disney songs actually have more instrumental sections than any other, even more than Verses! And last for now: okay, you’ve heard of the 3 chord song right? Well, Disney songs use an average of 8 ½ different chord triads types each—and that’s not even including inversions, voicings, or colorings!


Okay, if you think this type of thing is as interesting as I do, I hope you’ll stick around for these 5 videos, full of songwriting and music theory tidbits from Disney Songs. And as always, if you’d like to skip the explanation portion and get straight to the data presentation, I’ll put up a little box here right now telling you how many minutes ahead to skip to…


Alright, staying with me for some context? Let’s get further into it: So, why Disney? Well, I chose Disney songs for my next stat study because the songs themselves are so pro. I mean, I love pop music, 80% of what I teach my students is pop music—but for a song to make the cut for a feature film, it’s just more likely that the writer is going to have to have more tonal tricks up their sleeves than they’d need for your average pop hit on the radio. For example, songs in the Rolling Stone Greatest Songs of All Time list had an average of like 4-5 chords each, but remember: Disney songs use an average of 8-9 chords each—two of the Randy Newman songs from the “Toy Story” movies even had 18—18 chord triads each! And like, Disney songs modulate to other keys almost ten times more often than songs from the Rolling Stone list—they use multiple section variations, and tempo variations, and like fairy dust and stuff. I mean, they’re just really juicy songs most of the time.


And yeah, it’s not that more Chords or Keys or Variations make a song “better”, it’s just that more Chords and Keys, and more complexity of content—it just makes it all more fun for a guy like me to dissect, and more fun to talk about in a video like this, to you!


Okay next, I want to talk about the embeded data spreadsheet for this series—I kept the spreadsheets fairly polished this time, so that they’d be readable by people other than me, and so that people could peruse all the data and charts themselves, if they wanted to. Cool right? So yeah, they’re embeded on each video’s webpage at So, if you’re watching on Youtube or somewhere else and you’d like to see the data at your own pace and in your own time, just follow the link down there somewhere, and you can get your nose down into the nitty gritty details yourself.


Also, if you’re interested in how I did this, or, my methodology—like for instance why I sometimes  used “fixed” roman numeral analysis over “functional” numerals, or why I rounded all BPM tempos to even-numbers instead of using all the numbers—that sort of thing, you should go back and watch my videos about the Rolling Stone List, most of your questions I don’t answer here will be answered there. If not, just ask me in the comments.


What you won’t find in those last statistics videos though are explanations of some of the new data fields I added to this study: Form Sections, Stepwise motion of Modulations, Melodic Tessitura, and a General Commentary Field. So yeah, I’ll be explaining those things as we get to them.

Okay, next, you might be wondering: how did I select the songs to include in the study?


Well, I didn’t, Disney’s publishers did. I mean, they know better than me what the best Disney Songs are anyway. So yeah, COMMERCIAL! I simply chose all the songs from the New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs – 6th Edition. This is the songbook that not only has the most songs in it of all the options out there, but it also has the most accurate, least dumbed-down arrangements. It’s great you should get it. And, additionally though, just to keep it up to date, I did add a few Disney movies songs that came out after this last edition, for a nice round sampling 70 songs.


Okay one more thing before we get to the main course: the differences between what Disney publishes, and what ends up on the silver screen, and again, if you’re antsy to get to the data, you can skip ahead, but I just gotta complain for a minute: Okay first thing about Film vs. Sheet Music is that even though this book was the most accurate and definitive book I could find, there were still quite a few inconsistencies, like the keys the songs were actually in only matched the book about 56% of the time, probably because of the tug of war between Singers—who don’t mind sharps and flats—and Publishers—who think they can sell more books if they don’t scare people off with a bunch of hard key signatures.


Just one example of this, is that the published version of the first song in the book, “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo” is written out in the key of F—which has just one flat. But in the Disney Classics version you can buy on itunes, it’s in F#, a key with 6 #’s, and, in the original cartoon, the song’s played in both Ab and Eb, which are both multiple flat keys. So yeah, there’s some inconsistency going on here.


Next I’d like to whine about how the ‘song-forms’ almost never matched the book: only 6 of the sheet music arrangements—that’s only 9%—had the same song forms as what was going on in the movies, or TV shows, or amusement park rides. Mainly this was due to the instrumentals, intros, or other little sections they felt like they didn’t need in the book. Or, sometimes the songs would just be too long or complicated for the publishers to whittle down for mass consumption. Like the most egregious offender was “Part of Your World,” where they left out the entire first 2 sections of music, that’s like 40% of the song!


So yeah, because of this infernal snippy-snippy in the book, I opted to mostly go with the full Movie or TV or Ride versions of the songs over their book transcriptions. I say mostly because there were some exceptions, where the book had fuller versions, like “end credits” versions, or, original composer’s versions of the songs that were more interesting and more fleshed out than the in-movie versions, which were sometimes chopped up for timing and to serve the flow of the story.

So yeah, this is also a study, unintentionally, about the different ways a song can be treated when transmogrified from the printed page, to film, to pop radio, and to any of the other diverse forms Disney songs have found themselves in. But yeah—whatever was more interesting, or whatever I thought the composers of the songs would have wanted me to include—that’s what’s in this song-stat study.

Alright, finally, let’s hop inside my Computer!



Okay, speaking of composers, before we get a look at our first graphs, gotta give a shout-out to the heavyweights whose names appeared the most in the upper right corners of the sheet music: Okay, coming in at first place by a long shot was composer Alan Menken, with 13 songs representing. Next, we have Frank Churchill, with 7 music credits, and 1 lyrics credit to his name. The indispensible songwriting team of the Sherman Brothers had 7 songs. And last, two lyricists, Ned Washington and Larry Morey, have their words immortalized in the book 6 times each.



Next, we got our first chart: Yearly Output of Songs—and these are copyrighted by year, so some will be biased on the earlier side of things since sometimes a film is released a year or so after the song is written. Starting out we have a couple of songs from the early cartoons, this aforementioned first one here, “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo” had lyrics by Walt Disney himself, and it’s actually the only song he ever took a writing credit for.


And then it’s just: BOOM—Snow White, and BOOM—Pinocchio, with four songs each. No other movie after this had that many songs included in the book. But yeah, after the success of these two classics, they made a few more, and then… WWII happened, so Disney switched over to making war movies, like there’s this one where Donald Duck quacks about how awesome it is to pay income taxes for the War effort, and there’s also one where he throws tomatoes at Hitler’s face—there’s even a song for it that goes like “When der fuehrer says, we is de master race, We heil, heil, heil, right in der fueher's face.” Yeah, kinda bummed that song didn’t make it into this study; more people need to know about Disney’s war propaganda. It’s awesome.


Okay, then after that there’s a pretty solid stream of output with peaks, both post-war and in the early fifties, and another peak in 63 and 64.

And then… Disney Died. So yeah, that was definitely a contributing factor as to why not much is happening in this 18-year portion of the graph. Big time song-drought going on—big time animated feature drought in general. I mean Disney trivia-fans know that during this time the whole animation department was actually moved off the main lot, in favor of live action stuff, live-action being a somewhat harder medium to insert songs into I guess.


Okay, but yeah, then, the famous: resurgence, or “renaissance” as they call it in the book, which was spearheaded by our first-place composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, who helped resurrect Disney Movie Music with songs from “The Little Mermaid”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “Aladdin.” After which we have our longest unbroken streak of over a decade of constant annual movies and their songs.


And then at the end of this chart, we just have a couple of tunes I added for good measure, not sure if they’re ones the publishers would have chosen, but maybe we’ll find out when they publish the 7th edition. Anyways, whatever the future holds, there’s definitely no hints that we’ll be seeing an extended song-drought like we had in the 70s and 80s any time soon. Next, let’s look at a chart with data for Melodic Tessitura.



Alright, so, melody is definitely the hardest part of music to try and statistic-i-size, or get stats from. And I think that has to do with the same reason why there’s not really a good way to teach melody writing. Most people I’ve heard talk about the subject agree that it’s more of a knack people are born with. You either have an ear for it or you don’t. So yeah, I mean, we could like, take all melodic intervals in a line and put those on a graph, but I’m guessing we wouldn’t find anything more than the general principle that melodies will probably use smaller intervals more than larger ones, and consonant intervals more than dissonant ones, and also intervals with more diatonic instances. I dunno, maybe there’s something to be found, maybe not, maybe a good way to teach melody writing can be found. But for now, we’ll get by with the data we got from our chart for tessitura, or range of melody.


Okay so here’s the overall finding: the most popular tessituras are the ones with the most common diatonic instances, and, as is natural to the limitations of the human voice, the winners are also mostly to be found in the middle of our chart range. And yeah, real quick, here’s what I mean by “Diatonic Instances”: So, in any diatonic major or minor key, you’re going to have some intervals that happen more than others.


For instance, the perfect octave(P8) or P15 double octave interval happens all 7 times you play it starting on any of the 7 notes in a diatonic scale. On the short end of the stick, the tritone #11 or b12 only happens one time.


Back to the chart, our longest four columns here all have at least 5, 6, or 7 instances that they happen naturally in a diatonic scale, with the M9 and P12 leading the pack. Coming in after these first four, we have tessituras of a m10 and M10 in green and yellow. And these bars support our original thesis pretty well too, in that green, with 4 diatonic instances, slightly outdoes the yellow with 3. And again, we can point to the fact that they’re in the middle of the chart to explain why they are more protruded than other greens and yellows.


Next, here’s an interesting thing: the tritone. It beat out all the purples, or 2-instance tessitura intervals. Personally, I would have figured that at least this purple guy here, especially since he’s in between the first and second place guys, would have had at least a somewhat comparable showing. But, go figure…


Alright, let me switch to edit mode so I can show you something you may or may not have noticed by now—so yeah, do you see how it kind of rainbows out in opposite directions from the tritone? Cool right? Math man, patterns found in nature, pretty neat. …Or it might be a government conspiracy or like the Rosicrucians or something, I don’t know.

Okay let’s close out this video by mentioning just a couple of my favorites melodies and why I like them.


So let’s go back to our theory that most melodies like to move by smaller steps using scalar motifs or stepwise motion, saving their leaps for effect, just like they do in “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Well, the chorus from Pinocchio’s “I’ve Got No Strings” bucks this trend with a very uppy-downy ping-ponger. It’s the opposite of “Mary”, since it’s mostly all chordal, saving just a few scalar notes for the end; it’s delightfully clunky and clumsy, and very appropriate for a puppet tripping down stairs during his first day of life, let alone his first day in show biz.


Another one I like for how it matches up and serves its subject matter is the “You Can Fly” melody from Peter Pan—There’s uppy-downy here too, but it’s not clunky or clumsy at all. In it, the speeding and slowing, and swooping of the flying children is mimicked by the melody’s crescendo/decrescendo, accelerando/ritardando, and glissando. It’s just, super fun to have an excuse to use this much expression in melody.


Alright next, let me show you this page right here from the Lion King’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”: any time you see this many intermittent sixteenth notes and a lot of ties tying them together, you know you’re going to have something else that ain’t your method book Mary. And what I like about a messier looking melodic lines like this, that require so much extra ink, is that since we don’t normally speak in common time signatures, it’s more likely going to express how words are spoken naturally. Either that or the funky looking ink is just going to give us some pretty funky sounding melody in general.


And to best demonstrate why I like this melody, let me sing it—without the sixteenth notes and ties, like what if it was all changed to accommodate just a quarters and eighth note grid.


Next one’s an instrumental melody I really like in the bridge to “Let it Go” from Frozen. It’s got these schizophrenic 3rds that don’t know if they’re major or minor, also it’s got both major and minor 7ths, further smudging the colors, it’s the part that’s like… and then after it’s played once, it’s played again, twice as fast like, it’s all flourishy and it like you’re in a blizzard or something, love it.


Last favorite, for its sheer gratuitousness and gargantuan bombast is the last melody treatment in the end credits version of “Go the Distance” from Hercules. This is Michael Bolton at his most Bolton-y Bolton-ness. So like, for most of the whole song he only ever goes as high as an A, but then, at the very end, he tweaks the line so he can sing a B, one step higher, then right after that, wham—C#, and then over the next few measures he falls all the way down a whole octave and a fifth, and then climbs right back up an arpeggio to sock you with those two new high flyers one more time, knocking you right back down. Alan Menken plus Michael Bolton, it’s a powerful cocktail.


Okay, that’s it for this one, but I hope you can stay for the next video, Disney Song-Statistics Part 2: Keys and Modulations. Alright, thanks for watching, and please make sure to click us a like on facebook, subscribe to the youtube channel, follow me on twitter, join the mailing list, and tell all your friends about the songwriting and music theory videos at Peace y’all!

Click Picture for link to the "New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs" on Amazon.