Here’s a truth that many wannabe music composers and music producers complain about – All the best songs have already been composed! Actually here’s something in your favour – not true! You might say, ‘Oh, there will never again be born composers and songwriters like Beethoven, Mozart, Lennon-McCartney, RD Burman or AR Rahman or just about any other great composer you care to name. How many possible tunes exist? To get a fair estimate consider the number of combinations that you can choose from. Let us start with some conservative restrictions taking America’s national anthem – The Star Spangled Banner.
1. A buffet of 19 semitones which is the total pitch range of the anthem.
2. A note value no longer than one bar (four beats) in duration.
3. A note value no shorter than one-eighth of a bar in duration.
The parameters above are a pretty basic parameter and one could sing any tune within this parameter. At the start of the first bar, you can choose between 20 notes and a rest for a total of 21 note possibilities. Each note or rest can have have one of 8 duration values. So you have 21 notes x 8 duration values = 28,224. By the time your tune reaches eight note-rest combinations, the total number of tune possibilities has grown to (rounded off) 634,600,000,000,000,000! That’s around 634.6 quadrillion possible melodies. Now most songs have a lot more than the eight note-rest combinations that we have defined above as a limit. So in actuality, the number of possible combinations of singable songs is a helluva lot more greater than 634,600,000,000,000,000 options. More like ten times that amount!
The number of tunes that could be composed in only just a few bars of music is so huge that even if only a tiny fraction of them sounds appealing to our ears, our species would have to exist for many millions of years for songwriters to get around to composing and recording all the possible great melodies.
So dear frustrated music producer, fret not! Roll up your sleeves and get to work on your workstation. Most of the world’s amazing songs are still floating in the ether waiting to be grabbed and waiting to be composed!