The 'Common Melodic Tendency'

So many songs sound the same these days.

Are we running out of tunes?

Though there are a finite number I don’t actually believe we are running out of genuinely good new tunes. The problem is that there are a large number of over-used snippets of melody that, having appeared in so many songs, sound like something that has already been written.

Western diatonic music follows familiar harmonic sequences (lead by the arrangement of harmonic overtones in what is known as a 2-5-1 progression) and there are certain melodic phrases that naturally fit over such sequences. When a composer is writing a melody line these phrases will be used over and over again. It then follows that many songs sound similar enough to be recognisably the same as something else.

For example, the song “Raise Me Up” performed by “Westlife” sounds almost the same as “Danny Boy” (I once heard a choir sing both songs in the same concert).

A good example of a Common Melodic Tendency is what I call the “Moon River” (over the words “wider than a mile”). It appears everywhere, including the two songs mentioned above.

Write a good tune and you can usually get away with using certain CMTs as the strength of the melody hides the fact that elements of the tune have been used before. It’s almost impossible to write a new tune without drawing on certain CMTs along the way, but that doesn’t mean there is no original music left to be written (I am often surprised when I hear a simple tune that is genuinely original because one would expect it to have been written before).

In addition certain chord sequences have been used over and over again such that the chord sequence itself becomes familiar and it can be impossible to write a song with the same chord progression that doesn’t sound like something else. The chord sequence of “Pachelbel's Canon” springs to mind – used in “Streets Of London”. “Streets of London” is a good tune so it shines above the chord sequence and the fact that it is the most used chord sequence in Western music doesn’t matter. If the tune was not so good then the familiarity of the chord sequence would stand out more and it would sound suspiciously like so many other songs.

I have coined this the “Common Melodic Tendency”.

Perhaps a cut-and-paste device that allows you to build a song using Common Melodic Tendencies might be possible. You could probably use it to write songs at least as good as the majority that are being churned out today.