I've been a touch typist on the keyboard for a long time, and the reason is that I've internalized the shape of every word in my mind because I've typed the same words so many times throughout my life. For instance, the word "example" can be used in many different sentences, it's a popular word so it's second nature to type.

Similarly does some random combination of intervals that's a part of a melody be used in many songs again and again? for example "unison + descending major third + ascending major second + descending perfect fifth". So that when you hear them you can play them right away because you've done them so many times in other songs. So if I practice playing by ear enough songs in enough keys, then I'll know how to play any new song on the fly since it'll just be a new set of interval combinations I've already practiced? I'm pretty sure this is true for harmony, but I was wondering for melodies.

This is one of the reasons instrumentalists practice scales and arpeggios. Since these patterns are common elements used in composition, mastery of these skills allows us to perform them the moment we see them.

This is also one reason instrumentalists are often told to transpose things to other keys. It just helps gain fluency and familiarity with the other keys and their idiosyncratic difficulties.

Now, if we think about singers and those learning to sight-sing, they're typically taught not by intervals but by scale-degree function. In other words, they don't typically think "now I'll jump up a major third," but rather "next I'll sing scale-degree 6." I only say this because, at least in tonal music, it's almost universally agreed not to sing by interval sizes, but to rather sing in functional contexts.

  • I find that practicing scales doesn't help as much as playing a simple song (for example: amazing grace) in all keys. b/c playing a scale doesn't give you a chance to practice larger intervals. and arpeggios are generally just certain intervals. but songs give more variety. – foreyez Aug 9 at 21:49
  • @foreyez not really. Think of one of the most memorable songs "Somewhere over the Rainbow". After the octave jump, you pretty much just walk down the major scale. Even other songs are more stepwise like Twinkle Twinkle and Ode to Joy. – Dom Aug 9 at 22:01
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    @foreyez Musicians can also practice scales in all intervals. Scales in thirds, for instance, would be C E D F E G F A G B A C B D C. This way they can tackle these intervals in all keys. – Richard Aug 9 at 22:15
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    @foreyez Fair enough. You've stumbled upon one of the long-standing debates of instrument pedagogy: should we teach students technical exercises, or focus only on the music? (As is often the case, I think the best answer is "a healthy mixture of both.") – Richard Aug 9 at 22:21
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    @foreyez a lot of musicians also feel that way playing the same set of songs every night. Regardless whether you practice songs or scales, repetition is a big part which can always get tiresome. – Dom Aug 9 at 22:36

There may be some small sections of melodies that are similar, but seeing as how the melody is what gives each song it's "uniqueness," generally speaking, each song will have its own unique melody. If you think of a tune as a story, the melody is the phrases and sentences used to tell it -- originality is a vital part of this.

What you will find much more often are common harmonic progressions, due to the fact that chords follow certain standard patterns (circle of fifths, for example).

Hope this helps answer your question!

  • That being said, certain intervals like seconds and thirds are used more than octaves and sevenths, but these can be used in any number of combinations, so that you won't find many patterns that you can point to and call a common melody line. – Kevin H Aug 9 at 21:27
  • maybe then it's not so much combinations of intervals, but rather practicing intervals themselves. many songs have a "minor sixth" for example. – foreyez Aug 9 at 21:46
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    To borrow from the answer above, however, I play proficiently by ear and I almost always think in terms of scale degrees, rather than interval gaps from note to note. However, I can correctly identify all major/minor intervals as well, which definitely is a plus with my "by ear" playing. In short, rather than thinking of each note as an interval from the note before it, I relate it to the tonic to know the scale degree -- which is learned by interval training. Eventually you'll get to where you don't have to stop and think of the tonic between each note -- it becomes ingrained in your mind. – Kevin H Aug 9 at 21:59
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    I don't understand this answer, or why it is the accepted answer. There are many books filled with melodic patterns and phrases that appear over and over in melodies. One time-honoured method of learning to improvise involves practicing typical phrases, and players practice patterns based on scales and arpeggios because they appear in the music so frequently. – David Bowling Aug 10 at 8:46
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    @DavidBowling - I'm with you. Diatonically, there aren't many intervals to choose from! The same sequence of several intervals played in the same order, but with different timing, makes it a new melody anyway. – Tim Aug 10 at 9:32

The thing is that if you use the same combination of intervals in the same order (as that of another song), you risk being accused of plagiarism. The risk gets higher the larger the interval combination is.

Even if nobody will accuse you of plagiarism to your face, people may make fun of your use of the same combination and order of intervals as another piece by mashing up your piece with said piece. I've heard that quite a lot of SiIvaGunner videos pull that off.

This is why several pieces by different composers and in different corpuses using the same combination of intervals is somewhat rare. People don't want to be accused of plagiarism or copyright infringement, so they actively avoid using a combination of intervals that sounds like a pre-existing unrelated piece. ...At least, most of the time.

One example I've been keeping track of is "ascending minor second-descending minor third" (e.g. C-Db-Bb). Shoehorned into 5/4 time, I've found it in the music of 4 video game series so far (Metroid in Ridley's theme, Kirby in Meta Knight's theme, Ninja Gaiden, Final Fantasy in "RUN!" from Final Fantasy IX). Yes, I've heard fan-made mashups of Ridley's and Meta Knight's themes. The Kirby series also uses that motif in music assigned to 3 similar knight characters. Interestingly, a more specific version can be found as that favourite of Shostakovich, the DSCH motif (D-Eb-C-B for non-Germans). Sometimes, composers pay homage to Shostakovich by using the DSCH motif raw.

  • I'm asking a question that has to do with practice, not composition – foreyez Aug 10 at 1:17
  • I edited my answer to emphasize why finding pieces (to practice) that use the same combination of intervals is harder than you might expect. – Dekkadeci Aug 10 at 1:35
  • Oh I didn't mean a motif. Something smaller and not so unique to the song. I meant that maybe certain intervals appear in many songs.. like IV-V-I sound I hear in many songs. The melody I mean. – foreyez Aug 10 at 1:41
  • In that DSCH motif, how did Eb morph into S? – Tim Aug 10 at 6:43
  • @Tim In German, E♭ is "Es." – Richard Aug 10 at 11:14

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