Study shows song melodies have simplified since 1950

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A recent study suggests that the melodies of popular songs in the U.S. have become simpler since 1950.

Researchers Madeline Hamilton and Marcus Pearce analyzed the top five songs on the Billboard year-end singles charts from 1950 to 2022.

Their findings, published in Scientific Reports, show a decrease in the complexity of song rhythms and pitch arrangements over time.

The study found that as the average number of notes played per second increased, the complexity of the melodies decreased. They noted two significant drops in melodic complexity in 1975 and 2000, with a smaller decrease in 1996.

The researchers speculate that the changes in 1975 might be linked to the rise of genres like new wave, disco, and stadium rock. The drops in 1996 and 2000 could be related to the popularity of hip-hop and the use of digital audio workstations, which allow for the repeated playing of audio loops.

However, the study emphasizes that while melodies have become simpler, this doesn’t mean other aspects of music, like sound quality and combinations of sounds, have also become less complex. The authors suggest that the simplicity in melodies might be balanced by complexity in other musical elements, such as the number of notes played per second, to avoid overwhelming listeners.

Additionally, the availability of digital instruments might allow for musical complexity to be expressed through sound quality rather than melody.

These findings provide a deeper understanding of how popular music has evolved over the past 70 years. While melodies may have become simpler, the overall complexity of music could be shifting to other elements, reflecting changes in technology and musical trends.