Will song composers ever run out of melodies for songs?

  • I have asked this question from my intro to music college professor, many years ago, and his answer was in the negative. I have searched the internet for answers but not found any.

    There are many similar sounding tunes out there, especially in pop music and many people have been sued for copyright violations. So there are similarities.

    A recognizable musical tune can be hummed or played on a single instrument. A composer can choose the notes as well as the timing and sequence in which they played. A popular tune can be recognized if someone hums the tune of the first verse. A composer has to avoid duplicating any previous tune.

    There must be a theoretical limit to the number of note sequences that can be constructed out of a set of notes. Isn't it reasonable to assume, and possible to calculate, the total number of recognizable melodies that can be created from these? Doesn't it limit the number of songs that can ever be written?

    To put things in perspective, though, no one has ever heard all the songs ever composed in all cultures since the beginning of time, so there maybe exact duplicates of song melodies but without anyone knowing.

  • jomki

    jomki Correct answer

    6 years ago

    I saw a YouTube video, I think Vsauce, where he crunched the numbers. I also just googled it and found this guy https://plus.maths.org/content/how-many-melodies-are-there. According to these numbers there are is a very high number of ways to permutate musical notes. The website comes to conclusion of

    There are around 82,500,000,000,000,000,000 melodies that are 10 notes long.

    And this number is just raw permutations of notes and rhythms that doesn't take into account repeated notes, which would add to the number by a lot. However it also doesn't take into account common practice and tonality and recognizability and other factors that make a melody worth composing. This would reduce the number I think. But I believe the number would still be rather high.

    Wow! I have not seen the video but that's a fantastic answer! It explains a a lot. Thanks for the answer. Calculating the permutations from 7 notes for a 10 note melody (with repeated notes) I get an answer of 282,475,249 melodies. (7 to the power of 10). In comparison, Itunes has over 43 million songs. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITunes_Store

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