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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi,

it has been my observation that if you follow the History of Pop music, probably beginning in the late 70s the harmonic language has become increasingly simplistic. Older popular music often has strong influences from Jazz and Classical, featuring elaborate Chord Progressions, Chromaticism and diverse Harmonic structures such as Augmented and altered seventh chords.

Most modern Pop (that I'm aware of) on the other hand, mostly sticks to completely diatonic 4 chord-loops, often even based on exactly the same vi-IV-I-V progression. It's almost as if modern musicians stopped learning the basic theory of harmony, or even just exposing themselves to a broader variety of music, it's that limited.

I find this to be the main reason why Pop music of the last decades is so boring to listen to.
Even Rick Beato, who is himself a Pop Music Producer, acknowledged this:

So I basically wonder: Are there still any modern Pop musicians around who are harmonically inventive? Which ones do you recommend? Who are your favorites?
 

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I don't give a thought to how much harmonic movement there is in a song, unless there is too much. Rock and roots music are not about a lot of harmonic progressions - they are about feel, simple textures, rough hewn singing, and lyrics that are saying something.

I am primarily interested in the lyrics and if the music matches the mood of the lyrics, and how well the syllables sit on the melody. If anything, I am less interested in a lot of complicated harmonic movement. So I have heard a lot of really good music in the last ten years or more.
 

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Hi,

it has been my observation that if you follow the History of Pop music, probably beginning in the late 70s the harmonic language has become increasingly simplistic. Older popular music often has strong influences from Jazz and Classical, featuring elaborate Chord Progressions, Chromaticism and diverse Harmonic structures such as Augmented and altered seventh chords.

Most modern Pop (that I'm aware of) on the other hand, mostly sticks to completely diatonic 4 chord-loops, often even based on exactly the same vi-IV-I-V progression. It's almost as if modern musicians stopped learning the basic theory of harmony, or even just exposing themselves to a broader variety of music, it's that limited.

I find this to be the main reason why Pop music of the last decades is so boring to listen to.
Even Rick Beato, who is himself a Pop Music Producer, acknowledged this:

So I basically wonder: Are there still any modern Pop musicians around who are harmonically inventive? Which ones do you recommend? Who are your favorites?
Even if I like a lot of music that is very basic from an harmonic point of view, I am someone who loves to hear songs with interesting harmonies and yes, that's been a big problem for me and I agree with your analysis. Also, great harmony is often coupled with melodies with interesting twists so it makes it even worse.
But I think there are here and there musicians who are still able to work with chords in interesting ways.
Guinga is probably the first I can think of, altough his first album was made in the nineties, but he's considered probably the best popular brazilian composer of the last thirty years and for a good reason. Ed Motta is in love with the Steely Dan, City pop, Stevie Wonder etc and it's quite clear.
Anderson .Paak mentioned above seems to make songs with interesting harmonies.

A few other relatively recent things:





(the funny things is that these are all examples of musicians looking back to older musicians, being them the Steely Dan, The Beach boys, samba music or the aor of the seventies)
 

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Hi,

it has been my observation that if you follow the History of Pop music, probably beginning in the late 70s the harmonic language has become increasingly simplistic.
The late 70s? What about the 60s? Everything has gotten way simpler since the GASB and Jobim, which was popular music in the early 60s. The Beatles were popular because they combined good songwriting with simpler, more accessible harmonies than the Jazz-based popular music their fan's parents listened to.
 

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Hi,

it has been my observation that if you follow the History of Pop music, probably beginning in the late 70s the harmonic language has become increasingly simplistic. Older popular music often has strong influences from Jazz and Classical, featuring elaborate Chord Progressions, Chromaticism and diverse Harmonic structures such as Augmented and altered seventh chords.

Most modern Pop (that I'm aware of) on the other hand, mostly sticks to completely diatonic 4 chord-loops, often even based on exactly the same vi-IV-I-V progression. It's almost as if modern musicians stopped learning the basic theory of harmony, or even just exposing themselves to a broader variety of music, it's that limited.

I find this to be the main reason why Pop music of the last decades is so boring to listen to.
Even Rick Beato, who is himself a Pop Music Producer, acknowledged this:

So I basically wonder: Are there still any modern Pop musicians around who are harmonically inventive? Which ones do you recommend? Who are your favorites?
Flawed premises.

Where is your definition of 'pop'?

What 'modern pop' are you aware of, and it is sufficient to make such sweeping judgements?

Why start with the 'late 70s'? Did pop not exist before then?

Which "popular music often has strong influences from Jazz and Classical, featuring elaborate Chord Progressions, Chromaticism and diverse Harmonic structures such as Augmented and altered seventh chords." Which songs, artists do you have in mind?

Finally, is this a negative thread about "the death of pop harmony" or are you seeking positive recommendations of 'pop' musicians who are harmonically inventive? In which case, the mods might be asked to change the title so as to reflect your positive intent.
 

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Disagree that all pop harmony has gone down the drain, you're just listening to the wrong pop.

For instance, listen to this album from 2021 (especially Secrets Your Fire at 6:56 is a good example), chock full of interesting harmonies, and there are plenty more like it.


I agree that a lot of modern pop uses "simplistic" chord structures but, in terms of popular music, that has always been a thing, tracing back to Elvis or before.
 

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So I basically wonder: Are there still any modern Pop musicians around who are harmonically inventive? Which ones do you recommend? Who are your favorites?
The dilemma of modern rock and pop is the thematic commonplace-ness: 1-love,2-love,3-hate,4-hate,5-jealousy,6-jealousy,7-back to love again. Haven`t you find it? love is great, but a whole lot of songs on the same theme will surely surely bore and cloy. It is utterly fine to confine ones rock and pop to a few select artists. What amazes me the most about rock is the thematic depth, not just love, but more, what can it be? up to free imagination.

Harmonically, all love songs will sound a bit similar, normal, it is why people who produce so so love songs are exposed as untalented. There are still some good rock music but up to luck and search, in such innundated music market, one needs to try to seek for the music and artists that really rock you.
 
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Having just looked at the current UK Top 40, I can see that the streaming of old Christmas songs has completely distorted the chart. It's impossible to get a sense of what 'Pop' music looks like to day, compared to the "late 70s2 referred to in the OP.

In 1979, Christmas barely figures (only 3 songs out of 40) , and Pink Floyd is number one!

https://www.officialcharts.com/charts/uk-top-40-singles-chart/19791223/750140/

In 2021, 26 of the Top 40 are Christmas songs, including Dean Martin and Brenda Lee!

https://www.officialcharts.com/charts/uk-top-40-singles-chart/
 

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While there is some truth in the generalization that pop has become more harmonically simple, there's some complications when one looks at the details of the claim. One complication is that pop music has ALWAYS been more harmonically simple than genres like jazz and classical. Rock music, itself, was a simplification and hybridization of the blues, r&b, and jazz before it. Harmony has always taken a backseat to melody and hooks in terms of their importance to pop music, and to the extent that pop music made use of advance harmony it was never to the detriment of melody and hooks.

Another complication is the fact that while the kind of harmony used in pop music has been stagnant for a century or more (really even longer than our modern conception of pop music has been around), production has actually evolved a great deal. Digital technology has given people access to a greater variety of sounds and options for layering and mixing than ever before, so it's not surprising that the art of pop music has shifted away from harmony and towards production. What's funny about Beato is that he seems to be someone who recognizes this, but for whatever reason he's inclined to downplay the artistry inherent in modern production in favor of lamenting the lack of harmonic complexity... but if you're really looking for harmonic complexity why are you listening to any pop music rather than Messiaen or Ferneyhough or any number of modern/contemporary classical composers or jazz? It's a bit like complaining that McDonald's isn't serving fillet mignon.

I'm personally of the opinion that the focus on harmony among people "in-the-know" is often incredibly myopic. It often strikes me the same way as certain film reviewers who write as if nothing else matters but plot. Yes, plot (like harmony) are important, but what about cinematography, music, sound, editing, writing, acting, themes, etc.? There are many elements that go into making great films besides the plot (you will never appreciate masterpieces like Vertigo through plot-analysis alone), and the same is true of music and harmony. I've heard plenty of harmonically complex, adventurous works in pop and other genres that are awful, and I've heard many masterpieces made by looping 2-3 chords.

For those interested I'd highly recommend this 12Tone video on the same subject in which he addresses many of Beato's complaints (though I don't know if was in response to the exact video the OP posted) with some excellent historical and musicological insight:
 

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Apparently most people contributing to this thread think of Pop as only being the music from the '50s on. The Great American Songbook, popular songs from the '20s-'60s is known both for the sophistication of its melodic and harmonic content.

Some songwriters in the '70s - the present also incorporate more advanced harmony than I-IV-V and melodies more complex than the standard Rock song, not all Pop is the same.

That said, new styles have appeared which do not stress harmony or melody, but rhythmic complexity, and this is no less a valid approach to songwriting, or really making a record, since studio technology has also become an end in itself rather than simply the method of capturing and preserving the music on media.
 

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Apparently most people contributing to this thread think of Pop as only being the music from the '50s on. The Great American Songbook, popular songs from the '20s-'60s is known both for the sophistication of its melodic and harmonic content.

Some songwriters in the '70s - the present also incorporate more advanced harmony than I-IV-V and melodies more complex than the standard Rock song, not all Pop is the same.

That said, new styles have appeared which do not stress harmony or melody, but rhythmic complexity, and this is no less a valid approach to songwriting, or really making a record, since studio technology has also become an end in itself rather than simply the method of capturing and preserving the music on media.
Wasn't classical music the pop music of it's day?
 

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There wasn't a pop music of it's day, or at least the way we imagine it. Our modern concept of pop music depended on the recording and broadcasting industries.

If there's something to the video, I think it's probably true that the influence and "mainstreaming" of dance and electronic music (including hip-hop) has created an atmosphere where rhythm and music production can take precedence over melody or harmony. Some don't prefer this, obviously.
 

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First, what was "its day?" And second, there has always been folk music which was enjoyed by the "common folk", whereas what has come to be called Classical music has been enjoyed more by the upper classes.
just going by what a music teacher told me in an on line college course I took

he seemed to think classical music was adorned by the masses and that the church and the wealthy retained the services of composers to satiate this love

Was classical so restrictive that only the upper classes enjoyed it? How could it possibly have proliferated?

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just going by what a music teacher told me in an on line college course I took

he seemed to think classical music was adorned by the masses and that the church and the wealthy retained the services of composers to satiate this love

Was classical so restrictive that only the upper classes enjoyed it? How could it possibly have proliferated?

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Most Classical music is an outgrowth of, first, the music of the Church, and second the music of the Court. While the "common folk" surely went to church services, probably not the same cathedrals where chant and polyphony were performed. The music of the Court was out of their ken.

The music survived because of preservation of written manuscripts. Later during the post 17th century, Classical music moved to the concert stage and wealthier middle class those who could afford the tickets and had the leisure time, attended those along with the aristocracy.

Because of this association with the upper classes, Classical music has retained the cache of being the only music "of the highest quality." Something we now know to be a myth.
 

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all music termed 'classical', whether in Europe, China, India, Persia, Turkey or wherever, was court music for the ruling elites - they were the only ones with the resources to employ full-time, professional musicians. As a middle class developed in Europe during the industrial revolution, the population of people who could afford to attend concerts and music training expanded
 

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Apparently most people contributing to this thread think of Pop as only being the music from the '50s on. The Great American Songbook, popular songs from the '20s-'60s is known both for the sophistication of its melodic and harmonic content.
In this context I do think people are using the term "pop music" to refer to popular music of the rock and roll era rather than all the music that's ever been popular. One can even use "pop music" in a narrower way to refer to a specific genre that's distinct from popular rock, hip-hop, r&b, etc. music. The term is pretty ambiguous and meaning depends on context.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
In this context I do think people are using the term "pop music" to refer to popular music of the rock and roll era rather than all the music that's ever been popular. One can even use "pop music" in a narrower way to refer to a specific genre that's distinct from popular rock, hip-hop, r&b, etc. music. The term is pretty ambiguous and meaning depends on context.
I actually meant Pop Music in the broader sense, so that it also includes the Great American Songbook.
Either way, I don't think it's that relevant to my argument, although if you consider pre-50s music it becomes even more obvious how extremely simplified music has become.

A common argument is that harmony has been replaced by production, but I don't find that convincing. In my opinion in most songs the production really doesn't at all that much creative substance as people pretend.
 

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A common argument is that harmony has been replaced by production, but I don't find that convincing. In my opinion in most songs the production really doesn't at all that much creative substance as people pretend.
Then you are ignoring the entire genres of Hip-Hop, Art Rock, e.g. Peter Gabriel, and albums like SMiLE.
 
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