Derek Thompson, author of Hitmakers: How to Succeed in an Age of Distraction and senior editor at The Atlantic, explains how a specific combination of repetition and variation create the hook that makes pop music so catchy. He refers to a fascinating study conducted by David Huron, a distinguished professor of music at Ohio State University. In this study, Huron played a single note (B) for mice to see how long it would take until they became used to it. Once it reached that point, he would play another note(C) before going back to the original note (B). While it was the same note he’d played before, the mice became aware of it once again. Huron repeated the process until he had a formula; a musical phrase that would grab their attention and keep it while keeping the comfort of familiarity in place.
And it turns out that if you want to scare a mouse for the longest period of time with the fewest number of notes there’s a very specific pattern that you play, and it goes: B-B-C-B-C-D note to habituate from both from the B and the C note….if you take the letter “B” and you replace it with the word “verse” and you take the letter “C” and you replace it with the word “chorus “and you take the letter “D” and you replace it with the word “bridge,” you have the following song structure: verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge, which is essentially the most common pop song structure of the 20th century.