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Author Topic: Is it okay to use musical ideas by other composers?  (Read 1048 times)
marijn1999
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« on: March 18, 2016, 05:16:17 PM »

Hi everyone,

I'm much into composing and improvising lately and right now I'm slowly getting some work done on two piano trios and a string quartet. However, a lot of times when I'm trying to begin a piece, I just can't come up with a good motive which I can develop into a theme. Then, I look at other composers ideas, motives mostly, and see that most of them (and I'm talking classical period right now) are simply some rhythmic ideas combined with chord tones on the strong beats. Then, I get encouraged to try myself again, but it again doesn't work. I can't come up with something good with which I really can do something.

So I wanted to ask you guys. Do you think it's okay to borrow musical motifs from other composers, create your own new theme from it or even adjust the motive itself a little bit to get myself going and have a good starting point.

Some help on how to write WORKING motives would be appreciated too.

Thanks in advance!

BW,
Marijn
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xdjuicebox
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« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2016, 08:32:39 PM »

Well, there have been countless variations on themes by other composers, and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini comes to mind.

This happens sometimes; listen to Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, Movement one, during the first section. A theme strikingly similar to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake emerges. Rachmaninoff LOVED Tchaikosky. But he takes it and does something pretty different with it.

This isn't something new, a LOT of people do this. If you read Todd Rice's book on improvising and composing, he recommends doing exactly this, but changing it so much that people won't recognize it. It's perfectly fine.

Most people don't just "hear" melodies in their head. I do sometimes, but more often than not if I try to go off of that it's very frustrating. What I do more is I have certain key moments that I want and I play around with stuff until it sounds like a melody that works. You won't hear it perfectly the first time, just make sure you WRITE IT DOWN so that you can play with it!

One thing that helped me a lot is to use "sentences" as inspiration for motifs, or rhythms that I hear from just my every day life. For example, "This is a motif" can be a motif. The accent is on "TIF," so it's read like "This is a mo-TIF." [At least that's how I pronounce it] If you listen to the tone of the sentence, it goes down until you jump up at the very end. The rhythm...just try your best to transcribe the way you said it into a rhythm haha. Start listening closely to sentences. Natural sounds are good inspirations too. I've even heard of some composers "drawing" a scene with the notes (like a mountain range or something)

Good luck!
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spenstar
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« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2016, 01:45:36 AM »

In my opinion, it is okay. Even major composers have done this. (I dont have any citations but i know its happened) Once you build off of the thematic elements, it can often be made to sound completely original to the point where you cant tell.
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xdjuicebox
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« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2016, 05:28:43 AM »

In my opinion, it is okay. Even major composers have done this. (I dont have any citations but i know its happened) Once you build off of the thematic elements, it can often be made to sound completely original to the point where you cant tell.

Yes yes yes yes yes!
The various quotations of "Dies Irae"
The various "Variations on a Theme by ______"
The part in Rach 2 Mov. I in the exposition where the chord is in Db (the Neapolitan I might add) is a near quotation of Swan Lake
Rachmaninoff expanded a lot upon Liszt's pianistic textures
Scriabin was heavily influenced by Chopin and used his harmonic progressions as a springboard for his own stuff
Etc etc

In my opinion, a lot of composition starts off as imitation. You study how others achieved what they did, and in hopes of doing so, find out how it works, so you can use it as a vehicle for your own ideas.

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Scriabin 8-12
Scriabin Vers la Flamme

WIP:
Kreisler-Rach Liebesleid
Rach 33-4

Help me choose:
Rach 39-1,2,9
martianvision
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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2016, 12:47:13 PM »

It's done very frequently. For example
Beethoven's 1st and 5th sonata both have a similar starting theme to Mozart's sonata in C Minor K457. Have a listen and there'll be countless more examples this type of opening theme. If you hear a theme you like, study it, see what theory makes it sound like it does and develop your own theme from what you've learn. Chances are it'll bare some similarities, but will have individualistic character.
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anamnesis
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« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2016, 04:08:11 PM »

Godowsky had been accused of having made a living off this.

But I certainly don't mind the result in his Passacaglia, which even beyond the bass from Schubert is stuffed with quotations and paraphrases:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0nlJXooIVc
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