Study: Songs from recent decades are simpler than those from the 1950s | News from Mexico | News from Mexico

Study: Songs from recent decades are simpler than those from the 1950s | News from Mexico | News from Mexico
Study: Songs from recent decades are simpler than those from the 1950s | News from Mexico | News from Mexico

According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, the complexity of the melodies of the most popular songs each year in the United States, according to the Billboard year-end singles charts, has shown a tendency to decrease since 1950. However, The authors emphasize that this does not necessarily imply a decrease in the quality or sound combinations of other musical components.

The study, led by Marcus Pearce and Madeline Hamilton of Queen Mary University of London, annually analyzed the top melodies (usually the vocal melody) of songs that reached the top five positions on the US Billboard singles charts from 1950 to 2023.

Over the last century, the evolution of popular music has been analyzed from various perspectives by sociologists, musicologists and philosophers, although quantitative studies on this topic only began in the last decade.

This work specifically investigates the evolution of the “most abstract” dimension of popular music: the melody. The researchers used a new dataset spanning from 1950 to 2023, applying change point detection to a time series that considered tonal features and rhythmic structures of the melodies.

The researchers defined “melody” as a sequence of non-overlapping tonal events played with a particular rhythm, and “main melody” as the most prominent melody in the piece, usually the vocal one. Most of the songs analyzed contained between 2 and 4 melodies, EFE reports.

Analysis and Findings of the Study

The team found that as the complexity of rhythms and tonal arrangements decreased over time, the average number of notes per second increased. The analyses show a predominant pattern of decreasing complexity and increasing note density in popular melodies, especially since 2000, Pearce and Hamilton concluded.

The researchers identified two “major revolutions” in 1975 and 2000, as well as a minor revolution in 1996, marked by a significant decrease in melodic complexity. They speculate that these changes may reflect the rise of genres such as new wave, disco, and stadium rock in 1975, and the influence of hip-hop and digital audio workstations in 1996 and 2000.

They further suggest that the decrease in melodic complexity could be compensated for by an increase in the complexity of other musical elements, such as an increase in the number of notes per second, to avoid an overwhelming listening experience for listeners. They also suggest that the availability of digital instruments could allow musical complexity to be expressed through sound quality rather than melody.

This study adds to others that have explored the complexity of songs, such as a previous article that concluded that English song lyrics have become simpler and more repetitive over the past five decades, published in the same journal last March.

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