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Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
#3046611 11/16/20 12:57 PM
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Random Thoughts on Plagiarizing Your Own Music.

Typically I compose while sitting at my piano improvising until I hear something I like, then build upon that. Last night, however, a melody along with a contrasting second part of a piece of music started running through my head. This morning, when I notated it on staff paper, I thought it sounded familiar, so I looked over some pieces of music I composed several months ago. It turns out...

* the first part of the "new" piece of music is the first part of something I composed several months ago, and

* the second part of the "new" piece of music is the second part of yet another different piece of music I composed several months ago.

They both go together, heh, heh.

The new version is a slightly different variant in terms of melody and harmony and is a different key signature, but essentially it's the same music, just a derivative of the originals.

How stupid is that?

I am snickering at myself even as I am sitting here typing this.

Which brings me to a concern that's been lingering in the back of my mind for a long time, which is...

I don't know how anyone can be sure they are not plagiarizing someone else's piece of music. It can be so unintentional, so innocent a thing.


Every once in a while, when I think I may have composed something that sounds "too good" perhaps to be "mine", I find myself wondering, does this sound like something else? Then I ask my husband who invariably tells me it does not. But how can I be sure? How can any of us be sure?

Just some random thoughts. Perhaps some of you might like to add a comment or two on this subject.

Jeanne W


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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3046622 11/16/20 01:37 PM
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Jeanne; I appreciate your thoughts. I heard a piano piece randomly the other day by Robin Spielberg, a quite successful pianist with many albums and concerts. Yikes!, the very first phrase was straight from "Morning Mood", Grieg. It's a lovely lead in to the rest of her composition, but I think it's much too blatant, and skews my appreciation of it. It's "Cherry Blossom" on YouTube. Better to plagiarize your own than Grieg I think.

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3047021 11/17/20 08:20 PM
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It seems perfectly healthy to me!

I think of Messiaen. Consider the music of the Virgin Mary used in the 11th regard of the Vingt Regards. He quotes that figure throughout his life, from Catalogue d'Oiseaux to his vocal works.

I do the same thing in my life. I have spent my life discovering the possibilities between the lydian sharp 4 and the Ionian Natural 4. Specifically what my teacher called 'Braced fourths'. Think a second inversion chord where the third either goes to the 4th or the sharp 4th.

But I think we could clean up our thinking, as a matter of language. I think in terms of forming life long 'themes' or motifs' which can be seen as defining features of our music. I think of (I believe it was) Satie when he said "we have another 400 years at least to write music in C Major" (paraphrase). In my case, I see another 50 years of my life exploring these themes and motives in my music.

As for plagiarizing other composers, that seems like the game of young composers. A natural phase

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3047475 11/19/20 10:32 AM
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Will and MinscandBo:

Thanks for commenting.

MinscandBo: Regarding your comment about plagiarizing other composers...

Some years ago when I was looking for a piano teacher, I visited one particular music shop and met with one of the teachers there. When I mentioned composing music, he proceeded to demonstrate on the piano how easy it is to compose a piece of music by simply...

taking someone else's piece of music and changing the key signature, tempo, rhythm, etc. etc. and it's yours! Just like magic!

That was a real turn off!

I never went back there.

I should add, I can see the value of emulating someone else's piece of music as a kind of academic exercise, but really only (or mainly) for that purpose.

We are each of us an original and, hopefully, we all have something of our own "to say". Eventually we develop our own style.

We are each of us unique - just like every other person in the entire world. Heh, heh, heh.

Jeanne W

Last edited by Jeanne W; 11/19/20 10:34 AM. Reason: clarity and now spelling

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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3047536 11/19/20 01:36 PM
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Sorry to hear you had a bad teacher experience Jeanne. Wise of you to leave.

My teacher once gave me an exercise: rewrite the first prelude from Bach's Prelude and Fugues Book 1. Very different I know, but the closest experience I have. It was a very good exercise, and just an exercise. Aside from that, he was very keen on me developing my own voice. Once, I wrote a piece oddly similar to a Debussy prelude (which must have been stewing in my mind since I was learning them), and he literally and firmly scolded me! That was the only time he did.

Pure Plagiarism is base, un-creative/artistic, and should be always discouraged if you ask me. But in the early phases of composition, it seems natural to 'imitate' another composers style until you find yourself

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3059406 12/21/20 06:13 AM
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Maybe you stumbled into a "Parallel Universe" ... several great thinkers including the incredible mathematician Ramanujan as well as Einstein believed there was a font of knowledge accessible by certain mental exercises.

A few years ago, found a lovely piece of music in my pile of manuscript pages. When I discovered I could download music scores free from IMSLP a few years ago, I went "hog wild" and gorged on this cornucopia of music piles. One day I found a lovely piece, minus the title page. I played it several times and figured it was late Mozart or early Beethoven as I rummaged through the stack of music.

Several days later, I found the title page ... and was astounded to see it was my own. I didn't remember composing it. It was far beyond what I thought I could do, with a beautiful development and wonderful adherence to the classical "rules". I couldn't remember the theme ... nor a fragment of that music. I was very unnerved by the whole episode.

But then I began to wonder about that "parallel" Universe. The hallucinogens have long been linked to creativity ... and altered states of consciousness. And I know when I started to use the dictation feature on my pad, that my writing style assumed a fluidity that 40 years of journalism had never produced. ( I'm not dictating here ... obviously frown )

It would be impossible not to be influenced by certain chord combinations or intervals .. plagiarism is very obvious, but "influence" is subtle ... and permissible. And we all have that Universal font out there waiting to be tapped into.

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3062078 12/28/20 11:59 AM
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Hi Jeanne,

You ask a few great questions. With regard to plagiarizing yourself, what Bach and Handel (and many others) would term reusing your best material is totally acceptable. When I've done it I haven't changed the rhythm or harmony, but that would be easy enough. So, don't snicker at yourself for quoting your greatest hits. Stravinsky once said, "Good composers borrow, great composers steal." Personally, the only reason I can think of to steal another composer's music would be to reference the actual music for whatever reason.

I also noticed you mention that you improvise to develop ideas. I'd like to challenge you to try something different. The limitation of improvising is that you're generally limited to what your fingers play easily. Try hearing in your head and then developing the ideas on paper. Start with simple melodies and add harmony and accompaniment and build from there. I found drilling solfegge (using moveable Do, meaning Do is always the tonic) very helpful in developing my ear because it ingrains the function of each scale degree in the mind. That way when I hear a melody in my head I try to hear it as Dos and Fas and Sos (and Re, Mi, La and Ti and eventually all their chromatic variants). That way I can memorize the solfegge and figure out the key and rhythm later.

Finally, the only way to be sure you haven't stolen a melodic idea is to hone them carefully. Too many composers fall in love with their first idea and never make the effort to hone it into something better. Beethoven filled sketch books with melodic variations trying to get his melodies to their best. Play hard to get and make your melodies win your heart.

Good luck!


Steve Chandler
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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3065555 01/05/21 02:56 PM
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Lera Auerbach uses her own music for other pieces all the time. So much so that I often will be singing along, not even knowing WHICH piece it is until further along when it goes into a different section. Sometimes I think that she just takes the same music and writes different titles on it to meet deadlines. She is so overworked. Fascinating though. I am a super fan of hers.


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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3068804 01/13/21 03:52 PM
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MinscAndBo:

You say, "in the early phases of composition, it seems natural to 'imitate' another composers style until you find yourself." Yes, that is true.

TheHappyPianoMuse:

Your story about playing the piece of music not knowing who it was by, thinking it must be by Mozart or Beethoven, only to later discover it was your own composition - that is incredible, must have been mind boggling! A Special Moment, for sure. 😊 If there is a way for us to hear your composition, please let us know. Your story reminds me of…

The day, during a telephone conversation with my mother, I put the phone receiver down and played a piece of music for her on my piano. When I finished and picked the phone back up, my mother enthusiastically launched into a detailed critique of what I had played, informing me that my composition was too long, too repetitive, had too many notes in it, and I should fix it. I had just played a sonata by Chopin. i was flabbergasted!

(Please do not think this means my music is in anyway near the calibre of Chopin's. My mother's comments were w-a-y , w-a-y off the mark.)

Steve:

Regarding your challenge of composing by devising the music in one's head…

I agree there is value in that and that improvising as a method of composing can be somewhat limiting because, as you point out, one's fingers may search out what can be easily played.

When I improvise, however, I don't just let my fingers rule/do the deciding. Once things get moving along, I most often imagine/hear where the music wants to go, it's my brain that's telling my fingers where to go, not the other way around.

On the other hand, I'd be remiss if I didn't add there are times when my fingers magically seem to take on a life of their own, instinctively moving across the keyboard all by themselves to the places the music wants to go. What I'm describing is perhaps similar to your experience, HappyPianoMuse, when you talked about how your writing style assumed a fluidity when you started using the dictation feature on your computer pad.

SonatainfSharp:

I think composers who unintentionally plagarize their own music need not apologize. Dredging up and rehashing past compositions on purpose, to rework it into something better or different can be rewarding, that's just not my "thing". I'm always eager to start something fresh and new and rarely at a loss for new ideas. It's *form* I most struggle with. Big Time. Too many ideas. I'm working hard to make my compositions more "coherent". That is my biggest challenge.

Jeanne W


Music is about the heart and so should a piano be about the heart. - Pique

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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3068930 01/13/21 11:22 PM
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Re-using your own past ideas is not plagiarism. To plagiarise is to take, to steal the ideas of someone else and use them as if they are your own.

I can fully appreciate your reluctance in re-visiting the past and wanting to move on, and you are fortunate that you are "rarely at a loss for new ideas." But the music world is littered with composers who have re-used their ideas in different compositions. Keep an open mind in the future about this. In ten years' time, you may look at something you wrote today in a different light.

An example of a composer learning from another is Bach and his incorporation of the ideas of Vivaldi in regard to concerto form. Of course, no composer pops out fully formed. They all learn from others, from the past. And no-one accuses Bach of plagiarism.

In your struggle with *form*, what music/composers are you exploring?

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3069484 01/15/21 02:29 PM
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Hi, Charles.

I'm not sure how to answer your question which is probably due to my background in music. I am, for the most part, a self-taught pianist.

After learning to read both clefs and how to play the piano from notation, I had a few lessons with a woman who taught cocktail style piano improvisation. Years later, I worked on technique with a graduate of St. Petersburg Conservatory. Other than that, my piano and I have been 'on our own' for the last 50 years. I don't really study, I mostly am busy composing, which is my main focus.

Well, I guess I have studied, but mostly notation and all on my own. I've read numerous books on composition and notation. Also, thumbed through piano music by classical and new age composers.

I do go back and work on my compositions. To help with form, I compare the music to phrases, sentences, and paragraphs and ask:

* Is this an entire sentence or just a phrase?

* Where do the sentences end?

* Is this a "run-on sentence"?

* Does this phrase/sentence need to be expanded? Does it end too soon?

Weaving parts together is usually fairly easy. Even lately when I've had what I believe are some key changes within a composition.

One of my biggest challenges occurs when yet another new musical thought presents itself and I ask, does this belong in this piece of music or should it be removed and become a standalone piece of music? Removing a segment is often painful. Separating two parts from each other can cause the harmonic contrast (the "magic") that occurs when the two disparate segments are played together sequentially one right after the other to be lost. It's hard in those instances to be ruthless!

One of the things that has helped very much was someone's suggestion here on PianoWorld to separate each line on your composition paper into 4 measures or bars, first thing, before you do anything else. A big "Thank You!" to whoever suggested that! Squeezing more measures onto a single line as was my practice previously makes analyzing form much more difficult.

Some other things helpful in keeping to "form":

* Numbering measures to indicate where it is thought that each "sentence" and "paragraph" begins

* Whittling down a composition leaving only the main melody intact. I think that's called a "reduction".

Charles, your question has made me think and just now I am thinking of the big heavy "fake" book of classical composer's compositions I have. That should be a good reference to study "form". I will take a look at those. If you have any other questions, comments or suggestions, please let me know.

Jeanne


Music is about the heart and so should a piano be about the heart. - Pique

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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3070003 01/16/21 06:31 PM
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Thankyou Jeanne for your terrific reply. It gives me an insight into how you work, and it's really set me thinking as to how I could reply to you in a manner that might be helpful in that it sets you thinking - in a positive way.

Let me begin by saying that (a) I am a retired classroom music teacher and (b) I majored in composition at university. I am hard-wired to question what students are doing and can't help but try at the same time to encourage as well as challenge their musical perceptions.

On the question of "form". For me, form in music is the way a composer constructs an entire piece or movement, how it is put together. For example, in writing a symphony (a form in itself) Mozart relied on what we term "sonata form". Beethoven expanded on this and changed things, For example, Eroica Symphony 4th movt is a set of variations and not sonata form. Later symphonic composers - Bruckner, Mahler for example - extended this even further.

Then have a look at Debussy, who reacted to all this German nonsense (joke!) and wanted a music that was uniquely French. Have a look at "La Mer", symphonic sketches as he modestly calls them. Have a look in particular how Debussy constructs the first movt. of "La Mer". Very comples, very interesting and works so beautifully.

Debussy's piano music is also worth a look, starting with "Suite Bergamasque". The forms, the use of harmony, the melodic structures.

And moving on from Debussy there is Messiaen! His piano music - Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus -, the "Quartet for the End of Time". I won't go on. You can see where my biases lie.

See how rude I am, assuming that you haven't done this already? Sorry if I sound pompous. I have been accurately described as pompous on this forum before you will be surprised to know!

Your comment regarding setting your manuscript into 4 measures per line is revealing. Does this lock you into 4 bar + 4 bar melodic structures? I would challenge you to break out of this mould. Not all the time, but experiment with uneven phrases. Have you tried 5/4 time, or 7/4 time? (Pink Floyd's "Money" is in 7/4 time!) Have you tried changing time signatures?

Look, you don't have to do any of this. First and foremost, you have to be true to yourself (as you clearly are) and not listen to anyone else, especially a know-all like me.

But there are musical languages outside of the classical (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin are composers mentioned by you) mould worth exploring. I have a friend who's absolute favorite piece of music in the world is Etude for piano no.6 by Gyorgi Ligeti!! I'll say no more.

Best wishes with your creative work,

Charles

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3070109 01/17/21 12:17 AM
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I just thought of two contemporary Australian composers you would enjoy listening to I think. Both are very highly regarded in Australia and often played. And both have a love of melody.

Ross Edwards - studied with the same teacher I had in the 70's. (Good grief! Half a century ago. What happened?) His piano concerto is worth seeking out on YouTube, as are many of his other works.

Elena Kats-Chernin. Came to Australia in 1975 from the Soviet Union, but we call her Australian. YouTube again. Very melodic, lively, interesting music.

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3071598 01/19/21 05:49 PM
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Hi, Charles.

Thank you for your reply. Your responses are helpful and kind, not at all pompous or rude.

I'm looking forward to listening to and taking a look at the music you suggested as time allows. I've listened to a few of the music suggestions so far. Wow - the rhythmic structure of the one is very reminiscent of Stravinsky's composition - the one with the diabolically located accents/downbeats! Very interesting!

My focus is solo piano compositions. My personal "style" mostly fits into new age, avante garde, modern, but I stray as well into classical sounding genres. Most are short character pieces or "sketches", but at least a handful or so (the ones that lean towards classical) my husband thinks sound as though they want to be further developed and orchestrated into a classical composition form with different movements. (I agree.)

I wish I had the ability to do orchestral arrangements and considered at one time purchasing the Garritan Personal Orchestra software but nixed the idea for several reasons:

1) I'm not a computer geek, which one seems to need to be in order to take full advantage and work out issues with the software, and

2) more importantly, I don't believe I have what I consider the supreme amount of ambition necessary to study and excel in such a complex and demanding subject. Rimsky-Korsakov's "Principles of Orchestration" provides insight into just how much knowledge is required to do a good job of orchestration. I believe I'm better off focusing on simple piano solo compositions.

You ask if dividing manuscript paper into 4 measures is locking me into a 4 bar and 4 bar melodic structures. That's a good question. I'd not thought of that possibility. You've given me something to think about. I believe doing this has been a good exercise, but maybe its served its purpose and it's time to move on. You also ask if I've tried different time signatures. Yes, I have, although not "exotic" ones like 7/4. I have experimented with changing a time signature of a composition to see what effect it may have.

The efforts I've made over the last year or so have helped with form and development of melody but also likely resulted in my music becoming somewhat more "conventional". I'm not feeling very happy nor am I particularly keen about that, as it's likely caused some of the "uniqueness" of sound - that arises from the varied type of musical background people such as I have (aka "unschooled") - to be lost.

Perhaps some of the thoughts you and I have put forth here will help other PianoWorld members. I hope so.

If you have any more comments, Charles, or if other PianoWorld members would like to join the conversation, please do so!

Jeanne W

Last edited by Jeanne W; 01/19/21 05:52 PM.

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Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3071677 01/19/21 11:23 PM
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Writing for full orchestra can be daunting and a lot of work. And then getting someone to play it .......

How about smaller-scale works? Piano and flute/violin/clarinet and so on. Do you know anyone who plays or is learning an orchestral instrument? Offer to write them a piece. Getting together with them during the writing process can be a great learning experience. They will tell you what is easy or hard or impossible to play, and so you will learn about the instrument in a practical way.

Mozart had a friend, Anton Stadler, who played the clarinet. Without him, we would not have the Clarinet Concerto or the Clarinet quintet. Not unusual for composers to write pieces for friends that play an instrument.

And they don't have to be professional players. Writing for a student can be challenging and enjoyable, and less daunting than writing for a professional player.

Another Australian composer is Kerrin Bailey who has made a career writing for student pianists. Composing music that is attractive, enjoyable to play, and holds their interest isn't easy. He has a good website with lots of examples.

Re: Musings Re: Plagiarizing Your Own Music
Jeanne W #3073508 01/24/21 04:55 PM
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Hi, Charles.

Thank you for the encouraging words and great suggestions. I particularly like the idea of "smaller scale works"; getting together with another musician or two. Hopefully, this pandemic will be over before too long and things will get back to normal. This business of having to avoid everyone is upsetting everyone's everyday life.

Steve:

Your earlier suggestion about composing away from the piano may have started to "sink in". As I said, that is not typically the way I compose, but for the past few days I've been waking up mornings hearing variations of the composition I'm currently working on. It seems my subconscious is attempting to improve the rhythmic/melodic pattern of this composition overnight, and then when I wake up, I can consciously continue on with that.

Hoping All You Guys and Gals Stay Safe & Sound,

Jeanne W


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