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!!