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Unconsciously Copying Other People's Songs

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purple
(@purple)
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I know a lot of music is "borrowing" ideas. Lately, I feel that everything I make up on my guitar actually belongs to something I have heard before and is coming out subconsciously. I can"t pinpoint specific songs but I have an odd feeling that what I "compose" is not original. My fears were slightly worsened when some one over heard my new song bit and asked me what song I was playing. When I told them I made it up, they insisted it came from a song they had heard before. I now have great empathy for George Harrison. I really don't need to worry about it since I will pobably never be in fear of some one suing over it. I guess I am just frustrated that I am a lousy songwriter and that anything decent that comes out of my head, I actually pilfered from some one else's.
Am I being over paranoid? Is this a normal stage that newer songwriters go through? Does anyone else ever feel the same?

Please help

It's not easy being green.... good thing I'm purple.


   
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dirtgrrl
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I totally know where you're coming from!! I am kind of a newbie when it comes to song writing (have only written about 10 songs), but what I find often is that the songs that I write seem really familiar, whether it be the melody or the chordal progression. Every time I ask people if they recognise these songs they say 'yeah, kinda', but again they cannot pin point where from exactly. I freaked out when I first started hearing this response, thinking, like you, that I was unconsciously stealing from someone else. I usually get that feeling with the more hook-laden of my songs. I have come to the conclusion that the more catchy the song, the more it feels like you have heard it before, even if you haven't. I guess that it is just more likeable, and easier to get it stuck in your head, because after 6 months of writing songs, no one yet has been able to tell me exactly why my songs may sound familiar, and many don't recognise them at all. Hope this helps! :-)


   
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Vic Lewis VL
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Hell this happens to me all the time - I recently played my daughter a song by the Four tops, "If I Was A Carpenter" and she said "Oh so that's where you nicked "Blindman" from" - Blindman being a song I wrote in 1981!!! - a sort of finger-picked ballad that picks up speed and gets heavier - but the "If I " bit that starts every verse is the same and the chord changes are sort of similar - I never noticed it before she mentioned it but now every time I play it I think to myself "THIEF!"

Even though it was a subconscious thing.......

And I still like the song even though I wrote it 20-odd years ago - wouldn't bother playing it otherwise..............

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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Vic Lewis VL
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Afterthought - and there are only so many ways you can permutate 12 notes............

Or 3 or 4 chords in my case................

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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scratchmonkey
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Afterthought - and there are only so many ways you can permutate 12 notes............
Hmmmm.... I wonder if anyone's done the math on this one. If you throw in a mix of rhythms, it seems like the possibilities would approach infinity. I know other cultures use more notes. (I think) India uses a 16 note scale based on quarter-tones. (?) And the rhythms again would beef up the number of possible permutations. (1, 1/2, 1/4, 16th, 32nd, 64th, 128th, 256th, etc...) Granted, at a certain point you'd surpass what's distinguishable by the human ear, not to mention playable, but still. And that doesn't take into consideration the dotted versions of any of those note-lengths, or triplets. When you compare it to possible moves in a chess game, it seems like music would have infinitely more possible combinations. Chess is just 32 pieces on 64 squares, with very rigidly defined rules of movement. Music has very few, if any, such rules. Curious. Sorry Vic, you just got me to thinking, and there's no telling where that will lead.

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"...if heartaches were commercials, we'd all be on TV" -- John Prine
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purple
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Topic starter  

Thanks for the responses, my fellow thieves :wink: I am glad to know that I am not alone in the world on this one! I am going to keep plugging away at the music and only worry about whether or not I am copying someone els's music when I am a multimillionaire and I am being sued for royalties... :D . I agree with dirtgrrl, that maybe the catchier the song, the more familiar it seems.

Thanks
purple

It's not easy being green.... good thing I'm purple.


   
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purple
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Topic starter  

and there's no telling where that will lead.

It is going to lead into this monstrous post below.
Afterthought - and there are only so many ways you can permutate 12 notes............
Or 3 or 4 chords in my case................

12 notes, you have no idea....

Hmm.. Number of possible songs. Well, to calculate the number of possible songs would be infinite because any rhythm, you could just add another note to the end and say that is different. Plus, you can have as many notes as you want to, why stop at 12. Many regions use different number of notes. Hmm.. still thinking.. this is difficult to calculate, it would be much easier to figure out permutations if you do what all scientists do when they are lost and that is make up assumptions. The total number of unique chords, does anyone know this? Well, if a chord is 3 notes or more? Is there a limit on notes to a chord, could you use all 12 because then it is some what simple to calculate. There may be a simpler way to calculate this, but this is what I know:

Total # chords = 12 choose 3 + 12 choose 4 + 12 choose 5 + ....... + 12 choose 12
Total # chords =3747 if I did all the math right and this is independent of octave

12 choose 3 gives you all the number of possible ways of choosing 3 unique notes
12 choose 4 = 12!/(8!*4!) where 4! = 4*3*2*1

Now for a song, let's say all rhythms are in 4/4 time and last only one measure. And that the shortest distinguishable note is an 8th note, I was going to use 32nd but this makes for much less calculations. The 4/4 time probably doesn't matter so much, since you can write any rhythm in any key signature just about but again simplify. Plus, there are no triplets – I can't think off the top of my head how to include these. There are dotted quarters and such, any notes evenly made up of eighth notes are included. Oh and I almost forgot no rests.

Total # rhythms = 8 choose 8 + 8 choose 7 + 8 choose 6 + ……+ 8 choose 1
Total # rhtythm patterns= 255

Hmm.. the first rhythm has 8 notes per measure in it and it can have any combination of notes, such as repeaters or even all one note (also assuming that there is only one octave of notes). Hmm… lets say we aren't playing chords because for every rhythm that has 6 notes in the measure, there are 3747^(6) possibilities of chord patterns and then you multiply that by the number of different rhythm patterns in 4/4 time with 6 notes in it. If we use the chords, just for rhythms with 6 notes in a measure, there are 2.3 x 10^29 possibilities. So we will say that we are only playing one note at a time, especially since most of the 3747 possible chords probably do not sound that great, let alone using them as a chord progression. If I used chords, I would also have to include the possibility of playing just one note or two note case which leads to more possibilities. Anyway, So:

Total # possible ”songs” = (8 choose 8 ) * 12^8 + (8 choose 7) * 12^7 + ...+ (8 choose 2) * 12^2 + (8 choose 1) * 12^1

Again this is for a song that has: any pattern of 12 notes, only one note being played at a time, is in 4/4 time, the shortest note is an 8th note, there are no quarter note triplets, there is either only one measure or it repeats the same rhythm every measure, there are no rests, there is only one octave or octave doesn't matter, and tempo does not change the song. Any other assumptions I missed? Maybe, I should say number of possible riffs or rhythms. Anyway:

The grand total of “songs” is 815,730,720. At least it is under a billion!

I could probably include rests by making them the 13th note. This would be complicated because then there would be repeating rhythms. My probability knowledge is too feeble. Maybe there is a way of calculating the possibilty of writing the same song, if anyone wants to give it go.

Wow, that was a lot longer than I had expected. Does any of this make sense? I am bad at explaining things. I took probability in college and actually got an A in it but don't remember much of it now. So many possibilities, and I still steal other peoples music... :( .

Hope this was maybe slightly enlightening,
purple

this also doesn't account for key or anything that sounds bad.

It's not easy being green.... good thing I'm purple.


   
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noel-iu
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Hey purple!
You seem to be good on maths...
Why dont you write a song about maths?
I've never heard one of those :wink:
This would be original for sure

I always think I'm borrowing from others...
It's simple...
Although there are so much possibilities and combinations on music...
Is like... trying to compete with mozart making a "soneto" or a bethoven's simphony... it's just imposible... the musical ideas are wasted out... there's little of fresh on anything we could write now
Now there are thousands of catchy songs... what can we do to write something original?
This is not discouraging... me myself try to write too
But just expressing your feeling make your song unique... noone feels the same... and noone live's the same... but all of us speak the same language and have a similar musical background (Occidental Music)... so it's norma to write similar things... but with an only your's touch

Excuse me If a didn't explain very well... English is a second language for me

http://www.freewebs.com/noel-iu

http://noel-iu.dmusic.com/


   
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Gina
 Gina
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Afterthought - and there are only so many ways you can permutate 12 notes............

Or 3 or 4 chords in my case................

I remember hearing George Harrison discussing his lawsuit over "My Sweet Lord." He gave an example of 2 songs where parts of them have the exact same notes, but different rhythms! Obviously I can't sing over the web, but the songs are the first line of the church hymn "Rock of Ages" and the first line of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Really funny - same notes, different rhythms!

I think there are so many songs today that all sound like each other. I wouldn't worry so much about it, but if you REALLY thing you've copied someone's song, maybe change a chord, note, or rhythm here and there to make it different.

"And if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." -- George Harrison


   
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A-J Charron
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Actually Harrison was found guilty of that one because there's only one place where he adds a chord, the rest is identical. The lyrics obviously are different, but the melody is the same. He said he copied it unconsciously, but in this case, very unlikely.

But it's easy to copy something unconsciously, if it happens, let it go.


   
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Burpin'Worm
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I accidentally copy songs all the time. The other day I had a progression going which I thought sounded alright, but then I realised It was almost identical to Dylan's 'Knockin' on Heavens door'. And today I was playing around on the A minor pentatonic scale and started to play something that sounded really good. I was really chuffed then someone came in the house and said is that the theme from "The Godfather" film. It was almost exactly the same. I was gutted, but it's inevitable, there are so many songs and a lot sound very similar. Just keep trying.


   
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reasonableman
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Although this is less true when using chords I feel that music isn't actually in the notes, it's in the intervals! As such even you use completely different notes you can sound the same as something else.


   
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havok95
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I totally know what you mean. I can't play anything but I write lyrics, and I'll come up with a melody in my head. After a few minutes, I'll think "that's Guns 'n' Roses" and the song'll get stuck in my head and it's harder for me to write. Like it's been said...there are only 12 notes, and even though there are potentially infinite combinations, I'm assuming that there are some very basic ones that are commonly used and some complicated ones that even a Page or Dylan wouldn't touch. Don't beat yourself up about it.


   
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Nicola
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The thing is, theres no point in redesigning the wheel. Songs and music have all derived from somwhere, right back to the old hillbilly folk, that used the same chord progressions. We are just using the techniques and tools to recreate our perception of what we were influenced by. And we cant ignore that what we have heard, has not influenced us (hence the power of communication in music), so to say, you've written a song, from start to finish... as completely original. Its wrong.

My songs do end up sound quite similar also. I guess the basics sound quite similar, thats where the extras make it differentiate from my other songs. I always figure i could never be a producer, i would make the bands sound all the same!

But lets just say, if someone back in the day, put a copyright on the blues progression... there would be not much choice to listen to or write

Nic

There has been years of investigation to find that 100% of statistics are made up


   
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jimbob
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My songs do end up sound quite similar also. I guess the basics sound quite similar, thats where the extras make it differentiate from my other songs. I always figure i could never be a producer, i would make the bands sound all the same!

Nic

Surely thats your style?

Lots of bands and artists songs sound similar to each other. I can hear a song on the radio, instantly know who it is but have to weait a few seconds to realise what song it is! I think alot (not all) of bands have their style and keep it similar and maybe in another album they mix it up or have a different sound.
This is why I hear comments like, "all their songs sound the same" etc.
not as annoying as "all music sound the same these days"

There is so much music out there how can you be sure if your songs are original? i'm sure there would be parts or bits or even the whole thing thats already been done but thats because there is so much music out there.
I made a riff the other day and my friend said that sounds like "someone" (i can't remember who he said) but i'd never even heard of them! My reply was "they must be good then" :wink:


   
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