Wednesday, 26 November 2014

"’Ullo, I recognise that ol’ leitmotif!"

When George Harrison was sued for plagiarising the Chiffons – when Men at Work were sued for plagiarising the melody of a Boy Scout song – when Radiohead are sued for plagiarising Albert Hammond, or Coldplay for plagiarising Joe Satriani -- the common response is “Look, there are only so many musical notes, chords and riffs that a person can string together into a song.”

But while that’s technically true, it’s practically just bollocks.

Because, practically speaking, the number of possible notes and chords you can can combine together to form a melody is … well, practically infinite.  The number of potential melodies within just one octave is:


So, a mere ten note melody will produce over 75 billion potential melodies of 13 notes within the octave! It's going to take [any] composer a while to work his way through those.

Add in rhythmic subtlety…..

There are around 82,500,000,000,000,000,000 melodies that are 10 notes long.
    That's a fair few to work through! A very rough approximation shows it's over 2.6 trillion years worth of material. And as mentioned at the start, this doesn't even begin to take into account the variations provided for by harmonisation, orchestration, tempo, or heavens above — bringing in a new counter melody!
    So I think the message is: there is no excuse for writers' block.

Or for musical plagiarism.

Or for borrowing this lousy boring turgid fricking earworm!!

Enjoy, legally:


  1. How many of those strings of notes are melodic? And how many of of these strings of notes will be mere cacophony? How many follow rules of melody? And how many can be thought similar to others (different but able to be accused of copyright violation)? And as far as rhythmic development is concerned, that is not going to do much to defend you against copyright trouble if, for one example, your accuser reckons the melody itself is near enough. Good luck bashing drums,changing tempo or going from three-four to six-eight.

    For as long as there have been musicians they have borrowed melodies and themes from each other and developed their musical forms from there. It's known as musical inspiration and it is common. Even the greatest composers employed that approach. As a homework exercise you ought to start with a Bihary piece. In English it is known as "Two Guitars". But where did Bihary get his original inspiration from? See if you can track the melody line back from whence it came (look to Russia). And also see if you can track it forward to the present. Take a careful look at Brahms to see whether you can discover one line of development. See if you can find the other one on your own. It should not be too difficult since the melody is quite catchy and easily remembered once heard. Both lines feature exactly the same melody. Copyright would have prohibited both.

    Just as economics is not about mathematics, so also the case for music.


  2. Bernard Darnton27 Nov 2014, 09:41:00

    Four chords is plenty:

  3. "Copyright would have prohibited both." Ah, no, it wouldn't.

    You don't really understand copyright, do you LGM?


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