Current Psychology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 313–317 | Cite as

And the Beat Goes On: Popular Billboard Song Beats Per Minute and Key Signatures Vary with Social and Economic Conditions

  • Terry F. PettijohnIIEmail author
  • Jason T. Eastman
  • Keith G. Richard


The beats per minute and key signatures of popular Billboard songs from 1955 to 2008 were investigated along with changes in the social and economic conditions of the USA, in accordance with the Environmental Security Hypothesis. Slower pop songs and songs in less common keys are generally more reflective and serious, whereas faster pop songs and songs in common keys are generally more celebratory and fun. Consistent with theory predictions, songs with more beats per minute and in common key signatures were most popular in social and economic good times and songs with less beats per minute and in less common key signatures were most popular during social and economic bad times. Environmental conditions appear to influence tempo and key preferences of popular music.


Billboard charts Music preferences Song tempo Key signatures Environmental Security Hypothesis 


  1. Deutsch, D. (1992). The psychology of music (2nd ed.). San Diego: Academic.Google Scholar
  2. Duke, R. A., Geringer, J. M., & Madsen, C. K. (1991). Performance of perceived beat in relation to age and music training. Journal of Research in Music Education, 39(1), 35–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Eastman, J. T. (2010). Authenticating identity work: country music saviors. Studies in Symbolic Interaction, 35, 51–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. MixMeister (2010). MixMeister Technology, LLC.
  5. Nelson, L. D., Pettijohn, T. F., II, & Galak, J. (2007). Mate preferences in social cognitive context: When environmental and personal change leads to predictable cross-cultural variation. In V. Swami & A. Furnham (Eds.), Body beautiful: Evolutionary and socio-cultural perspectives (pp. 185–206). New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  6. Oakes, S. (2003). Musical tempo and waiting perceptions. Psychology and Marketing, 20, 685–705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Pettijohn, T. F., II, & Sacco, D. F., Jr. (2009). Tough times, meaningful music, mature performers: popular Billboard songs and performer preferences across social and economic conditions in the USA. Psychology of Music, 37(2), 155–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Pettijohn, T. F., II, Williams, G. M., & Carter, T. C. (2010). Music for the seasons: seasonal music preferences in college students. Current Psychology, 29, 328–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Whitburn, J. (2001). Billboard top 1,000 singles 1955–2000. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation.Google Scholar
  10. Yamamoto, M., Naga, S., & Shimizu, J. (2007). Positive musical effects on two types of negative stressful conditions. Psychology of Music, 35(2), 249–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Terry F. PettijohnII
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jason T. Eastman
    • 1
  • Keith G. Richard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCoastal Carolina UniversityConwayUSA

Personalised recommendations