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Unconsciously Copying Other People's Songs

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Trusted Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 61

You can always try my method ...

I try to play other people's songs, but I'm so horrible at em they sound like original songs anyways. :)

Estimable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 61

personally I've never come across any problem like that, except once, over my "career."
I wrote a version of Danny Boy.
Then I pulled out my dad's old Clapton CD.

And when I get to Danny Boy, I think, damn. :D


Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2261

I get this all the time. What's worse is that I can't then change what I'm writing, because the copied song is so strong in my mind I can't think past it. Every variation just ends up back at the copied song and I can't remember the differences. It really, really winds me up :) - Guitar Chord/Scale Finder/Viewer

Trusted Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 60

I think this is a really interesting topic, and yeah im exactly the same, I write alot of songs and I always can name at least one song that i know of which they are slightly derivitive.

There is a lesson on guitar noise about song writing that says, when it comes to chord progressions, everything has been done. Everything. Think how many progressions have been covered by famous bands, then think for every famous band there are thousands of non-famous bands picking away on the same instruments. Its all been done.

BUt instead of being discouraging, this is actually a good attitude to take. if you start with the attitude that everything has been done then song writing stops being the never ending search for a new progressions but just finding a progression that fits your song and then making it your own. Songs are more than just note progressions.

You think Dylan was the first one to put G D and C/Am together for Knocking on Heavens Door? Even with blowin in the wind, people have gone back and found similar sounding traditional folk songs from like 1876. but would anyone begrudge him of that?

Anyway, more than anything im glad to find im not alone..........

Eminent Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 15

I had this problem yesterday, actually. I was over at my friend's house, who also plays guitar, and we were both trying to write a song for our band. He starts playing some arpeggio, and then I go over it with a three note guitar riff, and then after playing it for awhile I go, "I've heard this somewhere."

And then he stops and says, "Heard what somewhere?"

Then I play that riff again and he starts singing the lyrics to the song, but we still don't know who sings it or what the song is called.

I was crushed after that, cause I like the guitar riff. I can still use the chords, though. :D

Trusted Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 49

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...
...And notes/chords is the easy part. Timing is where you get into some really big numbers. There are songs where a note can be held for several measures, and then again a 64th note is not all that uncommon either.

I'm not sure the basic rhythm of a song has much to do with anything though. I have heard, and play, a lot of songs using different rhythms, that ARE in fact the same song. A very popular technique a while back was to take a song and play it with maybe a reggae rhythm. It's still the same song, with a different rhythm. So it seems to me that what really matters is the notes and their immediate relationship to each other.

Still, I think that leaves endless possibilities. So, all you fellow thieves out there, if you're going to steal, maybe you should try to steal from something no one else has ever heard. (Engelburt Humperdink or Yanni maybe???) :lol:

It ain't what you play man, its how you play it.

Trusted Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 55

Haha, nice work Purple! I'm glad you did that.... otherwise I was *almost* tempted to... probability can actually be semi interesting... at least as far as math classes can go. :)

so many places that are hard to see
so many places that aren't
so many places we want to be
so many times we are not

Honorable Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 417

if you put a cd on and go into a different room, where you cant quite hear it properly, your mind fills in the missing tunes and you can sometimes end up with an orginal tune all to yourself. its happened to me once but i didnt want to try it again in case i subconsciously copied other parts like youve been talking about. sometimes your writing words and think 'oh yeah that sounds so right' then later realise the words are from another song or at least are so close to another song its risky, oh well you keep working at it hey, everyone starts somewhere

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1882

It happens to everyone.
John Fogerty got sued for copying his own song. :roll:

He lost the lawsuit, but won a subsequent appeal.

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep

Famed Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2241

I sometimes (read as 'often') feel that way about my tunes. But I also feel that a LOT when listening to other people's tunes, even stuff that's been released, is on MTV, etc., and I don't think they've been sued yet.

Off the top of my head....

There's a 1960s Dylan tune (can't remember which one right now, lol) which sounds like an exact copy of Eleanor Rigby but with different words, even the production sounds identical.

Half of Nirvana's tunes are rewrites of Smells Like....

The same can be said of half of Oasis' catalogue

A lot of Bright Eyes' tunes sound like they've been pinched from earlier writers

But then, how many blues songs sound identical?

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

Eminent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 34

This reminds me of the time I went over to my friends house and he began to play me "his new song". I swore I had heard the riff before but couldnt place it ANYWHERE, a month later I was watching eurotrip and he copied Scotty Doesnt Know. After showing him he was pissed and swore he had never heard the song before in his life.
Instinctively I began calling him Scotty.

I wrote a riff once that I thought sounded pretty good, then found it in the middle of Black Sabbath's warning. It was disheartening. I am pretty sure Iommi wrote every single riff ever used so I shouldn't feel too bad.

I think in general music that revolves around a riff has been beaten to death and doesnt really stand a chance of not sounding like something else

My lyrics almost always end up sounding like another song I know of, or like a bunch of songs thrown at a wall and bits and pieces of them stuck to it(if you know what I mean....)

Originality is hard with as many people are in the world right now

Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 2261

But then, how many blues songs sound identical?
That's a good way to get it into perspective when it happens - 99.9% of blues songs have the same chord progression in whatever key, usually the same few scales over the top too, but they're (mostly) different enough to be considered songs in their own right without so much as a second thought. Go with what you've written :) - Guitar Chord/Scale Finder/Viewer

Trusted Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 75

I realize I'm jumping into a old thread but it just had a run in with coping someone elses music just this week. I have been battling with this song now for months. I'll come up with some words, mess around with a chord riff and melody, lay down a demo thinking it's great. Then I'll listen to it a day or two later and think PEEEE-UUUU. Then I'll leave it for then and start again later. Last week I began for the nineteenth time came up with a cool chord riff (G Am C D) and threw a melody into it changed the word a little and laid a demo. I loved it. Even after a couple of days passed. But something was familiar about it. I had heard it before. A few more days passed, then it hit me. I had nicked the chord riff and melody from another song. One of mine. A song I wrote and recorded a few months back. It was so close that I could fit those lyrics right into the new song. Crap! Erase demo, start again, start thinking of taking up golf or another hobby.

Some of the songs I have written so far have been 'inspired' by other songs by other artists. I'll hear a chord riff by someone and think I like that, I need to do something with that. I was listening to a Trey Anastatio song and at the end he has a D DDsus4 D D5 D C G D progression that sounded great, so I used it in the last song I (sugessfully) wrote. I think this is common practice for artist. You always hear stories behind popular music where the song idea or music came from other sources and other artists. Beatles were big on this. 'You Got To Hide Your Love Away' was a Dylan-esc song even right down to his vocals. The first line from 'Run For Your Life' was taken directly from an Elvis song 'Let's Play House.'

Oasis is also big on nicking songs.


"Music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice".
Robert Fripp

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