Check out this video from Axis of Awesome and be sure to read my comments below afterward.
Every song in this video follow the I-V-VI-IV chord progression. Are all of the bands depicted in this video musical plagiarizers? The answer is emphatically “No!” They are simply reusing a time-tested chord progression that has a strong sense of sentimentality.
Songwriting is a complex task that is very similar to cooking. A songwriter uses multiple ingredients to create a tasteful song that is pleasing to the ear-buds. Among the ingredients available to the songwriter are rhythm, chord progressions, melody, lyrics, instrumentation, tempo, timbre and duration. It is up to the songwriter to use these ingredients in a way that conveys the intended mood, much like how a chef uses ingredients to create a flavor. And like cooking, where certain flavors require certain ingredients, specific moods require the songwriter to use specific ingredients.
All of the songs depicted in the video serve up heaping portions of sentimentality (or sappiness for the unimpressed). How do you cook up a sentimental song? Start with a slow to moderate tempo, sprinkle in some comforting rhythms, add a dash of gentle, pleasing instruments and finish it off with the salt: the I-V-VI-IV chord progression.
All of the songs in the video are striving for roughly the same emotional response and therefore I am not surprised that they all use the same chord progression. The songwriters knew that the I-V-VI-IV chord progression is a great ingredient to a sappy song. So when it was time to cook up a tear-jerker, they reached for the salt.
Salt is in just about every meal we eat and yet we don’t complain. Why? Because it tastes soooo good.
So the next time you eat a meal and reach for salt, ask your self: are you a culinary plagiarizer? Obviously, you are not. You just like your comfort food.
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