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Whose melody is it?

Robin Frederick (author, Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting)

From my email bag…

Q: “After I write a song, how do I make sure I’m not copying someone else’s melody? Is there some kind of software where you input your music and it compares it to a database of music to make sure you are not replaying a song you heard from somewhere else?”

 

A: That’s a good question!  There is no software that I’m aware of. If the melody sounds familiar to you and it’s a nagging feeling that won’t go away, try playing it for friends to see if anyone recognizes it. This is what Paul McCartney did with the melody of “Yesterday.” Since it came to him easily, he was suspicious that he might have been re-creating a melody he had heard before. He hadn’t written the lyric yet so he used the nonsense phrase “scrambled eggs” where he would later sing the word “yesterday.” No one recognized the melody, so he went ahead a wrote the final lyric. 

 

If a melody “just comes to you,” if it seems to arrive full-blown, be cautious. It’s possibly one you’ve heard before and stored away in the back of your mind. Sing it for friends to see if they’ve heard it. Back when I was writing three to four songs a week for the Disney Channel, I used to ask the musicians at every recording session if they recognized any of the melodies! I was writing so quickly, I was always nervous that I had inadvertently used an existing melody. If they thought the melody sounded familiar, I changed it on the spot.

 

The good news is that melodies are easy to change.  If you are still unsure after playing your melody for several people, try changing it.  Vary the pitches of a few notes, especially in the song’s chorus. Go up instead of down, down instead of up. Skip over a few notes instead of using a series of rising or descending pitches. You can also play with the rhythm of the notes. Hold a note out longer or divide a long note into a series of short ones. Replace a pause with a couple of notes. Keep on varying the melody until you feel comfortable that it is all yours!

 

(Note: The information in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Consult an attorney if you have questions concerning copyright infringement.)

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