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Most common keys in music on Spotify
There are statistics for the most commonly used keys in the music on Spotify, but if we take all the musical styles on Spotify into consideration, the result would be slightly different than only looking at one particular style of music.
Statistically there is more metal music on Spotify than pop music, and considering all the different musical styles that you will find on Spotify, the findings would be slightly different if you only looked at one particular musical style. If you look under you can see a chart made by Spotify data analyst Kenny Ning, hope you find it interesting.
Chart by Spotify data analyst Kenny Ning
Most common keys in pop music
There are definitely some logical explanations why some keys in pop music are more commonly used than others. Most songwriters play guitar or piano, I’m sure the statistics will agree on that. I should think that some keys are more handy to play than others.
White keys on the piano
On the piano the white keys are easy to play, here you get the C major scale, or the relative A minor scale served on a plate. Without too much effort you will soon be able to get your chords going for your next hit. If it where only that easy, at least for your next song.
The Guitar Key
On guitar the key of E major is also very convenient to play, with the open chords of E, A and B(7) you will easily come up with chords for your songwriting, and if you’re a guitar player you probably already have.
The Spotify stats will show you that the E major scale is used on 3.6 % of all the music on Spotify, there is probably a crazy amount of guitar players out there, don’t you think?
But still, in pop music of today I think the key of E major would be slightly less used. E major is convenient on guitar, but still we are stuck with 4 sharps in this key.
The tendency in pop music is often the usage of keys with less sharps or flats, with the possible exception of the key of C minor, with 3 flats.
If you look at the chart made by Hooktheory, you will see what I mean. They have analysed a huge amount of pop songs when it comes to keys, chords and melodies.
You will see in the chart under the most common keys in pop music, starting with the most frequently used keys to the less common ones, both major and minor keys are presented.
Chart by Hooktheory
Major and relative minor
C/Am (no sharps or flats, white keys on piano)
G/Em (1 sharps)
Eb/Cm (3 flats)
F/Dm (1 flat)
D/Bm (2 sharps)
A/F#m (3 sharps)
E/C#m (4 sharps, ¨The Guitar Key¨)
Bb major and D minor
Also note that the key of Bb major and it’s relative D minor with two flats are further down on the statistics, interestingly enough. Is it because it sounds more dull than other keys, or is it less practical on guitar and piano? Who knows, It’s probably not a coincidence.
C major and C minor on the piano
I, IV and V in the key of C major and minor (T, SD and D)But why is the keys of Eb major and it’s relative C minor with 3 flats more common in pop music than some keys with less sharps or flats in it?
I think the C minor is the exception here, because it’s easier to relate to, especially on piano.
I, IV and V in the key of C major and minor
The key of C major is convenient with it’s white keys, if you take the primary chords in the key of C you get C, F and G. All you have to do with these chords is to convert them into minor chords by lowering the thirds in each chord, than you get: Cm, Fm and Gm from the key of C pure minor. There is more minor scales, but I won’t get into it here.
The Parallel C major and C minor
This ¨Parallel¨ relation between the C major and C minor can’t be overlooked, also in practical terms on the piano. It’s easy to interchange between the C major scale and the C minor scale, because both scales uses the same tonal center, which makes comparison between the scales very easy.
On the Piano this is easy and natural to do, and also sometimes in music you borrow chords from the parallel minor when you use major, this is called modal interchange chords. I will get to this in the future blogs, but I will cover the basics first.
Musical examples in theory
In music theory the C-tone or the C-chord is often used as a reference point, usually to show various musical and theoretical examples.
Some keys sounds better than others
From a musical perspective another reason can be that the flat keys like the key of C minor or Eb often sound softer and less harsh then some keys with lots of sharps. Especially because all the overtones in the various keys produces different result from key to key. This is possible why some people say that some keys sounds better than others.
Listen to the Eb note versus the F# note
If you listen to the note Eb carefully on the piano you will hear it got softer vibrations than for instance the note F# that sounds more vibrant and harsh. You have to pay close attention to these two notes to hear the difference i’m talking about. If you play long notes it will be easier to hear.
The different characters of the notes in the keys you use, has an impact on the music you do. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, but still go with the feeling and pick the best key for your song.
That’s enough about keys for now, I hope you found it interesting, please share if you can. I will soon come back and talk about chords and voicing in pop music, with some great examples that I hope will be useful for your songwriting.
Best of Luck!
By Johan Modahl Leiva
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