I saw this segment on Post Malone saying how his music is catchy because he sings diatonically see 2:20.

Which got me thinking. Aren't most pop melodies diatonic? And if not, what's an example of a song that isn't? The Beyonce song that they mentioned, is still diatonic even though it modulates by a half step every time.

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    I'm not sure the statement "sings diatonically" makes sense. One sings. The melody lines may be diatonic (consisting only of notes in the key) or they may not be diatonic. To sing a line with chromatic notes "diatonically" is not possible. It's not a style of singing (unless vocalists use the term differently than in music theory). – ggcg Nov 15 '18 at 20:01
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    Yeah, the guy talking in your clip is not making much sense. Modulating is not the same as singing non-diatonic pitches. I think he's just trying to say that Post sings in an un-embellished style and has a narrow local range, and he's using Beyoncé as an example of someone who sings in a different style. But, yeah, his statement is fairly meaningless. – Peter Nov 15 '18 at 21:22
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    what does "modulates by a half step every time" mean? – b3ko Nov 15 '18 at 21:23
  • @b3ko To "modulate" means to change keys. At the end of the song in question ("Love on Top" by Beyoncé) the chorus is repeated several times, but in a different key each time, so all of the notes shift up a half step on each repeat. – Peter Nov 15 '18 at 21:32
  • @peter, thanks, i am not familiar with the song, and he was asking about diatonic singing and I couldn't tell if was using the term modulate incorrectly to mean "uses chromatic notes". if you are singing a melody that is strictly diatonic and then you modulate and sing that same melody, it will still be diatonic but in a new key. Modulation doesn't really have anything to do with a melody being diatonic or not so i am confused about why that is relevant to the question. – b3ko Nov 15 '18 at 21:46

There's definitely no shortage of songs that aren't sung diatonically:

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And when you include Western art music, especially that music since about 1925, we can encounter music that has very little to do with diatonicism:

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It can be tough to answer "are most things this" questions, because really that demands that we do a corpus study of every "thing" to see whether or not they're this. Understandably, that's all but an impossible thing to do with music, since we have centuries upon centuries of repertoire to study and new music being written every day.

So maybe a better realization would be that music can include chromatic pitches whenever and wherever the composer sees fit.

  • not only do we have centuries of music to analyse but styles are constantly changing. and what may be common today may not be in 1, 3, 5, years. what was true for disco may not be true for hair metal, or grunge, or diva pop, or whatever it is the kids listen to today. – b3ko Nov 15 '18 at 21:22
  • In the video that the OP linked to, they are comparing the styles of current pop vocalists, not doing a survey of the history of music. – Peter Nov 15 '18 at 21:35
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    And that's before we consider blues, with inflections of notes that would certainly be non-diatonic, and not even chromatic... – Tim Nov 15 '18 at 22:08

Do people usually sing diatonically?

That notion is so broad that the simple answer is: no.

But, a lot of pop music uses the pentatonic scale or small segements of it like DO-RE-MI or SOL-FA-DO etc. You can think of that as diatonic with the ^4 and ^7 scales degrees omitted. But, this applies to so much music that it is almost a meaningless observation.

Also, it's very common to have blues notes in the melodic mix like flat ^3 or flat ^7 and that of course would not be diatonic.

Pop music can be very diverse from a tonal/harmonic perspective. Personally, I think pop music (which many people may deem simple) requires fairly sophisticated analysis compared to something like a Mozart minuet (which some may consider more sophisticated that pop music.)

I didn't listen to the video, but I think there is a lot of click-bait out there claiming to reveal the "secrets" or "tricks" of music. But often they only present straight forward music theory or they over simplify.

So, Post Malone is not catchy because he sings diatonically. You can prove this to yourself easily... sing something to yourself diatonically... was it an catchy hit? Probably not! Many other musical factors come into play to make something catchy.

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