Running out of new music

Reading this thread in cafe brought a question to my mind.

First let me preface this question with I know nothing about music composition, so forgive me if this question sounds stupid.

Will there ever come a time when we will run out of possible combinations of musical notes? Where any new music will just be a copy of a previously written song.

Yes, the same way that some day we will run out of possible combinations of letters and all written material will be the same as something previously written. Want to do the math?

Won’t happen any time soon!!

Couldn’t language continue evolving? forming new words, spellings, and meanings.
On the otherhand a musical note is a specific frequency of sound.

The answer to your question is, in practice, no. Simple. In a highly theoretical, mathimatical type sense, yes - but I wouldn’t want to listen to the music of someone who thought this way.

I am not a musician, but I have often wondered this also. Of course Decca records rejected the beatles in 1962 because they thought guitar bands were passe.

There is already an enormous amount of song covering and/or influence, most of the time intentional, but often not. The thing is, it only takes a few small differences to make a melody sound completely different… maybe the same notes, but with different time; maybe change a couple of the note pitches; maybe combine parts of two or more melodies. Even if you pick an identical melody, or something very close to a well known melody, with a change in timbre, it may sound completely different. When you boil it down, there are far more notes/ timbres/times that can be used for form musical phrases than sounds/symbols in a typical language (possibly even many languages) that can be used for verbal/written phrases; of course, the difference is that a musical composition generally consists of less phrases than a written composition. This number continues to grow as new scales/times are experimented with, new timbres are discovered, and new genres being created. Like Argent Towers said, this question is akin to asking how many different possible papers one could write in English… you’re talking about a number so huge, the number of zeros in it are likely uncountable, muchless the number itself.

No, there is no point at which we will run out of music. You can always make a piece longer, or add another instrument to get a new piece. Granted, a 600-year composition for a 40,000-piece orchestra is a bit odd, but it still counts as music, right?

If you mean **good ** music, it will end as soon as Rush retires!
(I’m shameless!) :cool:

Example–it is known that there are literally over 1000 Silent Films that we do not have so much as a frame of. In some cases, we do not even know the names of the actors. This is a mere 100 years later.

100 years from now, much of our music will be lost.

Begin again.

And if all those films could’ve been burned to DVD, would we have lost them? That’s an interesting question for another thread.

If you take a simple 8-bar passage, and write a tune using only quarter notes (no rests) for a single instrument, and use only those notes in a single major key with no accidentals, and limit range to one octave, there are 7.9 x 10[sup]28[/sup] possibilities. Granted, 8 of those tunes will just be the same note repeated 32 times, but you can get the idea here that this explodes into some really big numbers if you are talking about real songs.

:dubious: It’s possible that recordings won’t survive. But I still hear Bach 300 years later. . . .

Yes, but do you hear the songs that Bach’s dung-hauler was humming as he made his rounds?

I vaguely remember a sci-fi story based on this premise. All possible forms of artistic impression had been done, and the society was stagnating. The plot surrounded a proposal to either do away with copyright or destroy all copies of old music, or something like that. The only reason it’s stuck in my mind is because it talked about one character enjoying a scent symphony, with one movement heavy on the cinnamon.

No, but I hear they sounded like shit. :stuck_out_tongue:

Where do you think Bach got his ideas?

Is 639 years and one organ more acceptable?

. . . and to think that George Harrison had to rip-off “She’s So Fine”, note for note, in order to come up with a hit tune called “My Sweet Lord”.


Shame on you, George.!

That assumes that Rush ever made good music to begin with.


Not “She’s So Fine” but “He’s So Fine”. :smack:

Although the math demonstrates that there are uncountable permutations of notes, rhythms and harmonies…

Empirically a musician knows that pretty much any “normal” melody has been pretty much done before. Maybe not in total (let’s say 16 bars), but in chunks, ie motifs.

In western popular music there are 12 chromatic notes, but usually we only use the 7 diatonic ones, and of those the 1, 3 & 5 tones are the most important. We start with a home harmony, modulate in standard ways, and have a cadence leading back to home. Almost all songs are in 3/4 or 4/4 or 6/8 meter. (You could say that 2/2 and 12/8 are really the same as 4/4 and 6/8)

If you follow “the rules” in the paragraph above, you’ll find yourself in a multitude of songwriters that have been churning out tunes since the time of Bach. For every composer we know of from any era, there are a thousand that were prolific and since forgotten, and a million that tried and were never successful. Throw all those tunes into the mix!

Yes, it’s hard to come up something that is truly original.