What makes songs Catchy?

By Aditya Shukla, psychologist and guitarist

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Repetition makes a sound familiar, and thus likeable. But music runs through time, so the repetition process is slow.


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Violating expectations

The brain predicts musical sequences because of the exposure we have since birth. But unexpected notes that build tension make the next sequence more pleasing.


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Ups and downs

Flat music does not grab attention. People "move" through music. Music "moves" them. This is because the change in notes is interpreted as a path on a road.


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Melodic Variations

Repeating a sequence makes it digestible. But small changes to some repetitions add a unique flavor to the repetition, which a listener appreciates only after they have "learned" the melody through repetition.


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Easy to process

Catchy tunes become catchy because they are shareable and relatable by many. A  catchy sequence can have deep details but it's structure is short and easy.


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Scale/Tempo variety

Every scale and tempo is predictable once you get used to it. Changing it within a song adds surprise and intrigue to want to listen to more.


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Pay-offs / Conclusions

Like a TV episode finale, a song has a pay-off where other elements in the song tie up together or an earlier melody returns to create a sense of reward in the listener's mind.


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Rhythm & Beats

A beat or rhythm is a repetitive pulsing of sound vs. empty space. It is the container & carrier for music. People often first respond to that and then get biased in favor of the music. It's in the beat.


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