Hearing Harmony in Popular Music

Popular music offers an excellent laboratory for learning to hear harmonic motion. The harmonic rhythm is often slow and predictable, the chordal vocabulary is often limited, and the while the bass often arpeggiates chords, the chords are usually in root position.

In particular, popular music is good for learning to hear harmonies as such. That is, rather than hearing scale degree 2 in the melody and scale degree 5 in the bass and deducing that a V chord is present, hearing a V chord directly -- hearing the V-ness of the V chord.

The one cautionary note is that harmonic syntax is quite different. V often moves to IV, ii can be followed by IV, secondary dominants are often left unresolved, etc.

In the following lists of songs, most songs are available on spotify, others are on youtube. Bollywood songs are on youtube only, and for easier searching they are listed by the stars who act in the videos, not by the musicians.

Musical examples

Contact | John Paul Ito's personal website | School of Music, Carnegie Mellon University | Staff paper