sql aggregate functions

SQL aggregate functions and Mariah Carey

Your data comes alive when you aggregate it. By using only one or two functions on a standard table, you can build metrics and answer questions about the data. As the terminology is similar to pivot tables and Excel functions, you’ll be up and running in no time.

COUNT all the things
GROUP BY multiple columns
Types of functions available

Introduction to aggregate functions

In this example, I’m going to be using a subset of the Billboard Top 100 dataset, available on Kaggle. I grew up in the 90s so I’ve loaded the 90s rows into a table called music_charts in SQL Server. To answer any of my burning questions about 90s music and who was at the top of the charts I’m going to need to use aggregate functions.

COUNT all the things

The first way to explore this dataset is to COUNT how large it is. This is similar to the COUNT function in Excel and works in the same way.

This function counts up all the rows and returns, in this case, 1000 to the results window. 100 rows per year over 10 years. It’s all there and ready to go.


Next up, I want to see how many artists are in the table. I can see that there are duplicates where an artist reached the top of the charts more than once.

This has returned a COUNT of 545 DISTINCT artists from the table. It still isn’t super useful so we need to add more columns.

Filtering with GROUP BY

It’s nice to have some facts and figures, but it would be more useful to answer some questions like ‘which artist featured the most across the top 100 charts in the 1990s?’

Similar to a pivot table in Excel, we can do this by adding more columns. However, it’s not quite as simple as just dropping in a column. If we run this query we get an error.

We need to explicitly say that we want all the artists to be collapsed down into one row with the count in the artist_count column next door. We do this using GROUP BY.


This is getting close but needs one more clause to answer my question. By ordering by the artist_count we can see that Mariah Carey appears the most in the dataset. Naturally.

GROUP BY multiple columns

Now we have the hang of the syntax we can start drilling into the data further and answering questions like ‘Which Mariah Carey songs featured more often in the Top 100 charts in the 90s?’


The last thing to cover off is HAVING. This allows us to put a condition on the aggregate. This is different from using a WHERE that puts a condition on individual rows.

To better illustrate how this works let’s use an example where we want to see who has featured on the list more than five times.

We count up the number of artists and then use HAVING as the last step to filter on the count.

Types of functions available

But it doesn’t stop with counting things.

The basic functions used day to day in SQL Server are:

  • COUNT,
  • MIN,
  • MAX,
  • SUM,
  • AVG

So you can use aggregate functions to slice and dice the 90s however you like.

Photo by Sarah Chai from Pexels

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