When I come up with a lick/melody, there always lingers that question of "Has this melody already been used?" Should I worry about it or is there a way to find out without too much hassle?

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    There's no way to find out for sure that your melody has never been used before because there are many songs that have never been published, recorded or publicly performed. But those that have been recorded number in the millions, so there isn't really a practical way to compare each one. You could play the melody for several music-loving friends, and see if any of them find it familiar.
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 3, 2015 at 3:19
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    I think about this a lot. As an amateur (but serious) songwriter, I can't count the number of times I've come up with a great original melody only to discover later it is not original at all. I then either (a) discard the song, or (b) acknowledge the theft somehow in the song itself, as homage. As a hobbyist, I don't need to worry about plagiarism, but I still don't want to be, as Will Hunting would say, unoriginal. I don't have an answer to your question, but I can pass along the sentiment of T S Eliot: "Bad poets borrow...good poets steal."
    – commonhare
    Jan 3, 2015 at 8:40

7 Answers 7


Non-expert opinion:

Are you widely distributing it? Is it possibly from a piece of music that still may be under copyright (link)? You could pay for a search or the advice of an entertainment attorney.

Otherwise, you might like to know just for your own understanding, but it probably isn't worth the effort, aside from maybe asking some experts. If you have an artist in mind, you could listen to their collected recordings. If it's only a few chords in the progression and you don't recognize it, it's probably not very identifiable.


Just an idea, I haven't tried this, but SoundHound1) supposedly recognizes tunes from singing the melody.

1) http://www.soundhound.com

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    I’ve never gotten that feature to work. I wouldn’t recommend it without trying it first. Jan 3, 2015 at 8:20

Yes, there are no exact way to find out if a tune is exist ant now, simply because there are too many songs and most of them contain a lot of notes. However, there are cases where small parts of your song matches other small parts of other songs.

To answer your question, if your song is a piano song you made, try searching it up in the piano melody search engine, called http://www.musipedia.org/. This website lets you input a song or melody into its search engine, and searches it depending on if you want rhythm or melody to be searched more. Keep in mind, it only works on piano songs as this website only contains these songs.

This website is great to see if your song matches or is close to another melody, as it will sort it from most likely match to least likely! I use it to check for common tunes and if my songs are close to others. Enjoy!


You can do that only for recordings, not tunes.

For tunes you should officially register the tune to your name and claim your rights if by chance you notice someone other is using that. This can happen if the tune goes popular. If it doesn't go popular, then claiming and searching is also impractical.

Visit copright.gov and My Free Copyright for more information on registering tunes (and also recordings). You can also use your local official time stamp agencies or notary for the same purpose.

For tracking recordings, I can suggest these services:

  • Tunesat scans the tv stations and websites all around the globe and gives a periodical report of usage of your recordings. This is a relatively expensive service for amateur uses.
  • Rumblefish scans YouTube and claim royalties but can be accessed only through agents like CDBaby, Tunecore...etc.

I know of no way to do it, but YouTube is inordinately successful at recognising copyrighted video even when it's been re-captured on a mobile phone, etc. So I'm quite sure that technologically it would be possible - but it would need someone like Google to build it.


For copyright questions, one thing you could consider doing is searching for the tune on Peachnote.com to see if it exists in that database of 200,000 out of copyright musical sources (mostly classical). If it appears in there then you don't have to worry about whether it appears in an in copyright song because you'd be protected since it'd be derivative of a melody that has already passed into the public domain.


Not Copyrightable Aspects of Music:

Chords: A single chord cannot be copyrighted.
Chord progressions: Progressions of chords are also not copyrightable.
Scales: The use of scales in music is not copyrightable.
Passing tones: Individual passing tones are not subject to copyright.
Drum beats: Copyright does not apply to specific drum beats.
Song titles: Titles of songs are generally not eligible for copyright.
Genres: Musical genres themselves cannot be copyrighted.
Words: Words alone are not subject to copyright protection.
Phrases: Short musical phrases are typically not copyrightable.
Vocal stylings: Unique vocal styles are not protected by copyright.
Tempo: The tempo or speed of a song cannot be copyrighted.
Key signatures: Musical elements like key signatures and modulations are not subject to copyright.

What Constitutes a Song?

A song is essentially comprised of two main components:

Melody: The melody breaks down into:
    Notes: Individual musical notes cannot be copyrighted.
    Rhythm: Copyright does not cover rhythmic patterns.

Lyrics: The words of a song are copyrightable.

What Isn't Considered Part of a Song:

Musicians often confuse the creative process with the song itself. These elements are important but distinct from the core composition:

Arrangement: This includes song structure, instrumentation choices, and production values.
    Song structure: Intro, solos, verse-chorus-bridge layout, and outro.
    Instrumentation: Choices such as guitar versus piano, or a cappella.
    Instrument arrangement: Including horn or string parts, lead guitar, and harmonies.
    Production values: Effects like reverb, chorus, mix, and sound levels.

Focus on the Core:

Understanding these distinctions makes it easier to focus on the essence of a song—its melody and lyrics. While similarities with existing works are inevitable, altering notes or rhythms can help differentiate your creation. Remember, embracing common musical elements is acceptable in songwriting. Don't let rigid thinking hinder your creative expression.

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