If I wanted to re-work another composer's melody, which method would you suggest?

For example, would you suggest modifying another composer's melody by:

  1. Altering one pitch and leaving the rest intact (say it's a three-note melody);
  2. Transposing the melody up or down a certain interval (ex. taking a melody that goes ^1 ^2 ^2 ^1 and making it ^3 ^4 ^4 ^3;
  3. Inverting pitch classes (set theory);
  4. any other methods?



  • Best method is to forget anyone else's hard earned efforts, do some hard work yourself, and make up your own. Your intentions cannot be good. – Tim Jun 24 at 19:57
  • @Tim Works in theme-and-variation form first emerged in the early sixteenth century. Have you heard Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini? He simply rips off Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in 24 different ways. You're telling me that wasn't hard work? What my question suggests is a greater application of theory than the alternative. – 286642 Jun 24 at 20:14
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    @286642 theme and variations don't "Lift melodies" or "rip them off". They use them as the basis for the composition and while there are modifications made, stating the melody in the original form is a very important part of the piece not trying to mask where it's coming from. Intention matters a lot as you don't seem to be trying to write a theme and variation and trying to "lift melodies with integrity" sounds more like trying to find a legal way around copyright which legal questions are off topic here. – Dom Jun 24 at 21:22
  • @Dom Understood. Thank you for that perspective. – 286642 Jun 25 at 1:43
  • @286642 I've refunded your bounty and closed you question because what your question is asking and what you bounty asked were very different and stray from the current answers and question. Furthermore, if you are interested in set theory and serial composition please ask a question regarding that as doing set operation like retrograde and inversion will drastically alter most melodies and transposition is just the same melody. – Dom Jul 2 at 1:37

I see two options:

  1. Use others' work to get inspired. Analyse why and how the composition works and apply those principles to your own work. Drawing inspiration from fellow artists is a well-accepted practise and should satisfy your moral aspiration. Just to be clear, inspiration does not mean copying.

  2. Pay for a licence to legally publish a cover version of the composition. This way you support the original artist, and are free from copyright issues. Usually you should be able to alter the composition as you like, but for details better read the terms of the licence agreement.

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Perhaps a repeat of Matt's point 1, but yep: analyze, then resynthesize.

Work out what makes the melody tick in terms of:

  • tonality
  • how big the intervals are, and what intervals are commonly found
  • particular notes that tend to be hit frequently
  • small fragments that seem to represent the melodic 'trademarks'
  • how often it uses patterns, sequences, etc.
  • ornaments and inflections
  • rhythmic patterns
  • ... and a whole bunch of things you can probably think of...

And then try to come up with a melody that has those 'scientific' characteristics, and play it with the feel of the original.

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  • 1
    I've come up with "a melody that has those 'scientific' characteristics" of another piece a fair few times before, and they've never sounded anywhere close to as similar to their "sources" as my arrangements and transcriptions of sources have. I suspect people wouldn't find their "sources" if I did not point them out. Actually, I pretty much had to hold a guessing game for one such source. – Dekkadeci Jun 25 at 9:55

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