Here is the situation: I'm at a friend's house, and he plays a song in the guitar. I never heard it before, but somehow I know it's John Mayer, even though I don't like him very much (I can't even name one song of his).

Based on this kind of situation I have always wondered what is there in a song, that lets us know who composed it, even when another person is playing. Most songs are very "generic", but some have something special, so that my brain tells me who the composer is, but I can't find out why.

So, is it possible to enumerate aspects of a song that might give away its composer? How can I know it and not know why I know? Is it too broad or too subjective to be put down in words?

  • 2
    Humans are very very good at pattern-recognition. Not perfect, but very good. They like to find patterns, they like to pigeon-hole things with similar patterns. When a pigeon-hole reaches a small enough size, it becomes easy to figure out other things that will fit in it. That's why you hear comments like "Wow! The new Arctic Monkeys song sounds just like Bowie" [It does, btw, but because there are sufficient match-points to be close, even though there are many non-matching points too]
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 13, 2018 at 16:49
  • @Tetsujin These matching points you are talking about, is there a limited set of them in case of music? Or there could be infinite?
    – coconochao
    Jun 13, 2018 at 17:20
  • now that's a question... I'd guess almost infinite, because humans can apply finer & finer gradation to pretty much anything. It's more 'general psychology' than music, but look at the current 'need' for people to divide music into smaller & smaller pigeon holes, which I'm sure is a failure to dare listen to anything that doesn't 'fit what I'm supposed to like this week' in case you don't look cool.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 13, 2018 at 18:12
  • As this is a question about listening to music, it's borderline whether it's more appropriate here or at musicfans.stackexchange.com. I think it's practically impossible to prevent some of our personality from coming through in our work, so music will generally reflect some mix of the composer, the performer(s), and even the engineers and producers. When one person does several of those jobs, the imprint is even deeper. Jun 13, 2018 at 18:12
  • It's not just pop music this applies to. If you've listened to Bach, Beethoven, Mahler, et al, there's a good chance you'll guess who may have written another piece you're listening to. Bit like painters (artists).
    – Tim
    Jun 14, 2018 at 7:52

1 Answer 1


An artist's musical signature is comprised of the patterns they typically use in melody, harmony, rhythm and every other aspect of music.

This might shed some light:

What contributes to an artist's melodic "signature?"

  • 1
    Does anybody care to comment on why this answer was downvoted? I can't learn if you don't provide feedback.
    – dwilli
    Jun 15, 2018 at 17:36

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