I noticed two types of songs.

  1. A strong chord progression (or a strong bass line) and then the melody follows as an example, Pachelbel's Canon in D. In this case the chord progression remains consistent throughout the whole song and the song is more centered around the rhythm/harmony. The melody just supports what the harmony is doing. I noticed this happens alot in modern/pop songs. Somebody I used to know by Gotye. Someone like you by Adele. Shape of You by Ed Sheeran.

  2. Another is there's no chord progression. Or no repetitive progression at least. The chords of the song just support the main melody but on their own the chords don't really make a song. As an example, Here comes the sun by the Beatles. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. La Campenella by Liszt. Schindler's list by John Williams.

Are those the main two types of songs? So if I hear a strong chord progression I chalk it up as "harmony based". and if I hear a strong melody that is just supported by chords it's "melody based"?

To give some context, in my own practice I've been focusing more on melody based songs (2.) that are supported by harmony/chords, but now I want to focus on more songs based on progression/rhythm (1.).

When jamming with people I noticed that when somebody comes in with a strong chord progression it's like everyone gravitates to it and the person with the strongest progression eventually wins everyone over. Whereas if I stick to melodic based songs it's not as magnetic. This might be a generalization but that's what I've found in practice.

  • 1
    Strongly related: Harmony or Melody First in Composition? – Richard Apr 5 '19 at 18:36
  • @Richard good point, however I'm wondering if there's two types of songs in general. I noticed some have a chord progression and some don't. Are those the main two types of songs? – foreyez Apr 5 '19 at 18:39
  • I think that a strong melody implies or carries a harmony (or harmonic possibilities) together with it, making the listener receive an idea of a harmony or chord progression even if played as a single-voice melody. And I think yes, there are two types of songs - and probably many somewhere in the middle, and this feels self-evident, so a yes/no question doesn't feel very interesting. But maybe you should ask, which characteristics or features of a melody and its accompanying harmony place it in one category or the other? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '19 at 18:51
  • @piiperi but the characteristics is what I found -- if there's a chord progression it's harmony based, if not it's melody based. but maybe I should ask – foreyez Apr 5 '19 at 18:54
  • Waltz of the Flowers has no chord progression? 😵 – piiperi Reinstate Monica Apr 5 '19 at 18:59

There are definitely some styles of music that neglect one or the other. Generally, more ethnic-sounding pieces tend to be the ones without harmony; however, generalisation is dangerous. European-based music emphasized the harmony more than other cultures during their classical period, but as most people can tell you, rhythm and melody are equally important.

I guess you could have only harmony, but that would be weird. Not sure, but you could argue that some ambient music does that.

You're correct, in that there's an important distinction between the two; however, I don't think theorists really classify music based on its focus on those two aspects of music. Of course, we do notice it, we just don't quantify it.

You might be interested in monophony versus polyphony; Monophony, or "one voice", is when music uses only harmony at the perfect unison, perfect octave, or none at all, and the individual instruments all do the same thing at the same time, creating a unified texture. Polyphony is the opposite, including harmony, counterpoint, et cetera.


It's not a main distinction between songs. In some sense, all songs are based on melody; the harmony supports the melody. Of course, some melodies can be harmonized in different ways (check Bach's chorales; various chorale melodies have different harmonizations.) On the other hand, many chord progressions can harmonize more than one melody (Blues, Passamezzo Antico, Passamezzo Moderno, Folia, Romanesca, Rhythm Changes, etc.)

When composing, sometimes one starts with a melody (or melodic fragment) or sometimes a chord progression or even a rhythmic cell. I prefer to start with the melody but when writing dance music (tango, rumba, bolero, cha-cha-cha, waltz, foxtrot, etc.) I usually start with a chord progression to keep the phrases at 4 or 8 bar phrases. When writing a sonata movement, I try to start with the melody. However in any case, both melody and harmony (and rhythm) get changed.


There is only one type of song. And there are 59 types of song. There are songs that strongly feature a riff, a repeated chord sequence, a rhythm, a continuous flowing melody. I wouldn't be inclined to use any of these elements to split the global mass of songs into two types.

I'm not sure I'd class a piece of music that was JUST a chord sequence, with no established words or melody as a 'song'. But as you class Pachelbel's Canon as a 'song' I guess you're using a wider definition.

  • after thinking about this for awhile I think it's more like a spectrum than a binary – foreyez Apr 6 '19 at 15:55
  • @foreyez this is correct, and it's also true of the other elements of music; rhythm and timbre for example. Just like with melody and harmony, some pieces of music rely much more heavily on these elements than others. Most of James Brown's hits for example are about rhythm first, melody second, and harmony in last place for example. – Some_Guy Jun 6 '19 at 0:24

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