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I hear David Gilmour copying his own riffs and melodies and solo parts and harmonic parts and etc all the time. Things he did for Pink Floyd now reflect in his On an Island, About Face and Rattle that lock. Surely I often hear Roger Waters do exactly same thing.

So my question is: Can I copy myself from piece to piece?

I mean i have a piece that has an interesting part in the middle. Can I, say, pull that out and base a new piece with it, making it like Part 2 for instance? Can I extract some of my ideas from other pieces and in place them elsewhere?

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    It's your music. You can do whatever you wanna do with it. – cyco130 Dec 29 '16 at 7:33
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    I call it "pulling a Philip Glass". – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 29 '16 at 11:35
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    Handel spent his entire career recycling his own music, and people are still playing it after 300 years. – user19146 Dec 29 '16 at 11:48
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    Glass literally reuses the same theme in every single one of his compositions. His "signature". – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 29 '16 at 11:48
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    Its also okay to do it with other works too. Gounod, for example, took Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846 from Bach's 'Well Tempered Clavier' and then put a melody over it. The resulting work, "Ave Maria" literally uses the complete melody of the prelude as an accompaniment for the new melody he created. – mkingsbu Dec 29 '16 at 16:47
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One situation where you might have to be careful from a legal point of view is when the piece of music you're copying has already been released under some legal agreement with one organisation, and you're writing music to be released under a different agreement with a different organisation. There's no point going into specifics, as laws vary by territory, and contracts vary by company, but "it's your music" doesn't necessarily hold if you've signed some of the rights away!

Aside from that - copying yourself is almost inevitable; every composer is going to have a limited range of knowledge, and capability, and will be more interested in some areas of musical space than others, so some repetition in output is bound to happen even if unintentionally. This itself is no bad thing, as an artist's fans / audience are likely to expect artistic output that exhibits the same strong points.

You've mentioned some ways in which you can recycle your own output - putting the same ideas in a different context. I always enjoy hearing Steve Hillage's guitar playing both in the earlier prog rock context, and in his later techno-influenced work.

As well as extracting ideas, it might also be interesting to take actual audio samples of your previous work and incorporate them into newer work. Of course working with chunks of audio has limitations, but it has often been said that limitations are great for spurring creativity.

Frank Zappa in his later years became keen on recording parts carefully such that they would be able to be re-used in later mixes and later works.

Large-scale borrowings in the pop world are commonly released as remixes. These are often done by other artists or producers, but it might be interesting to remix your own tracks.

Possibly, the most fun may come from going back to a piece that written a long time ago and revisiting it with the benefit of greater knowledge and experience. In fact I'd recommend that young composers (especially those with the benefit of time on their hands!) write (and keep a record of) as much music as possible partly because it may be of great interest to their future selves!

  • That's exactly what I do... I keep most of my audio, gp5, and gpx files in a storage and often relisten. – SovereignSun Dec 29 '16 at 8:57
  • @SovereignSun as you probably know, one thing to be careful of is "extinction" the formats you're storing in; most audio file formats are likely to be playable forever; Guitar Pro files may, one day, not be so easy to work with. I wasn't able to find an easy way to open my old .all files from Cubase in the 90's. – topo morto Dec 29 '16 at 9:01
  • I doubt I'll have such problems... You can always find an older version! – SovereignSun Dec 29 '16 at 9:03
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    @SovereignSun you can find an older version, but then there's always the issue of whether that version runs on the OS you have... and if you need an older OS, whether that runs on the hardware you have, and so on... I have no idea if this is an issue with GP though as I'm not a GP user! – topo morto Dec 29 '16 at 9:11
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No, you can't. If you do the fun police will turn up and set fire to your guitar/keyboard/kazoo, and you will never be allowed to write music ever again. Ever.

Ok, got that out of my system.

Of course you can. You can write fifteen versions of the Cb Major scale, call it 'Variations on a Theme by Mozart', and no-one will show up to stop you. Sure, they might not want to listen to it, but that's generally the rule, not the exception.

To be less facetious, I borrow ideas all the time. Mostly from others, because they are better than me. Sometimes I surprise myself, so I borrow from me. If it sounds good, go for it. Of course, if all your songs are the same, other people may stop paying attention, but that might not matter.

For the record, there are times when you can't self-copy, but those are mostly found in exams and assignments. That probably isn't a major concern.

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Of course you can. Don't reuse the same theme all the time, or your music will become repetitive and annoying. But you can steal a few measures from yourself once in a while. Or, if you really, really like a piece you wrote, write a variation for it. Eventually, you might get so far away from the original, that it would become a totally new musical idea. Technically, some people might call this cheating, but it works.

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