How Pop Music’s Bounciness Has Shifted Since 1950


(This post originally appeared here.)

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Some music just seems to bounce right along, like the proverbial bouncing ball that guided televised sing-alongs of yore. It sounds spikey, with a in-and-out rhythm — think choppy reggae guitar, or booming techno beats. Other kinds of music are more sonorous, languorous, and smooth, with sweeping string sections, flowing synths, and other sounds that glide smoothly from one note to the next.

Data alchemist Glenn McDonald looked into how bouncy popular music has been every year since 1950. Have we liked our music spikier-sounding at some points, and smoother at others? And overall, has music been growing generally bouncier, or have we liked it smoother over time?

“Bounciness is a measure of how rhythmic and sonically spiky the music is,” explains McDonald. “So, tech house would have high bounciness, as would reggae or salsa. Low bounciness would be atmospheric black metal or choral music.”

To determine bounciness over time, McDonald ran the most popular 5,000 songs from every year in the modern pop music era according to The Echo Nest’s hotttness attribute, from 1950 to 2013, looking at how that music’s bounciness varied over time. As you can see in the chart, people in the early ’50s liked their music really bouncy. Then, they preferred it smoother and smoother, through the end of the ’60s.

In the ’70s, popular music grew bouncier once again — but that was its last peak. Music has been getting less bouncy (i.e. smoother) ever since:


Maybe we just like our music with less bounciness, as the years have passed, similarly to the way a bouncing ball bounces less over time. Or, maybe we’ve been making our music more complex, adding more and more bits (and then compressing our music to make it louder), so that there’s just less space in between the notes.

For whatever reason, popular music started out bouncy, smoothed out, got bouncy again, and then smoothed out. In other words, music has been on quite a “bouncy” ride since the ’50s (ouch).

Bouncy music examples:

Tech House:


And here are a couple examples of what super un-bouncy music sounds like.

Atmospheric Black Metal:


(Top image courtesy of Flickr/Luis Romero)