12 notes. How many combinations can you get? Quite a few. Most of the popular music we listen to is made up of 7, so that makes a few less combinations.
Just a quick theory lesson: Western music – not Country and Western – which originated in Europe, is based on the major scale, which we learn at a young age in music class – or from The Sound of Music. Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc.
We label the notes from A to G. So if we play the notes in sequence A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A we get the major scale, right? Nope. That give us a minor scale. The major scale starts on C: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. Nothing is ever as simple as it could be. Don’t get me started on why instruments like the trumpet play the note C but it is written as a B flat in their music.
All you need to know is that if you want to write a happy sounding song, write it in a major key. Been done wrong? Heartbroken? Write a sad song in a minor key. Can you use both in the same song? Sure!
Anyway, with 7 notes, there are many combinations, but there are still instances where two songs can sound very similar. You probably have experienced that before, hearing a song and thinking that is a different one, or hearing a part and trying to figure out where you have heard it.
Sometimes it’s just a few notes – this is common because less notes=less combinations. Maybe it is a certain beat, or a chord progression. Is this done on purpose or is it accidental? I don’t think that musicians purposely try to copy another, this just invites the copyright lawsuit, and you don’t want that. It can be an homage to close influences – if you listen to a certain artist a lot, then it will influence your writing.
Get to the music, Leon.
OK. When I first heard “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” by Miley Cyrus, all I could hear is “Joleen” by Dolly Parton. It’s very close. Very.
Wait! How many Miley Cyrus albums do you own?
None. Tell me what you think.
Are there two songs that you think sound the same?
Leon Stevens is a blogger, composer, artist, and an author of four books (so far): Lines by Leon: Poems, Prose, and Pictures, Journeys: Eight Original Pieces for Classical Guitar, The Knot at the End of the Rope and Other Short Stories, and The View from Here, his first science fiction novella.