Style copying: 5 steps to using someone’s musical style without losing your own

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Style copying: 5 steps to using someone's musical style without losing your own •

As a composer, there comes a point in your career when someone asks you to write a piece that sounds like “composer X”. For example a film producer who want a score that sounds like Mozart for a historic drama, or a score with the sound of some other movie’s score. For example they want a scene that sounds like the Breaking Bad intro.

It’s not weird or uncommon that people ask for this, or when they send a mockup of the film with some tracks added to make clear what they want.

Howver, there is a little bump in the road: you can’t just copy some other music. That’s plagiarism. But how can you write music, using some other composer’s style, without losing your own sound? Without braking any copyrights? Charlie to the rescue with 5 steps to style copying!

5 steps to musical style copying •

1 – Listen to inspirational music

Don’t only listen to the example track someone sent you, but check out the entire album. Look for other music by that composer. Find music that originates from the same period and genre. Spotify is your best friend! Mark your favourites, create a little inspo playlist or write down what parts really inspire you.

2 – Analyze what you hear

Analyze the music. Try using your ears and a piano, or get hold of an orchestral score. Look at used rhythms, chords, melodic characteristics and what instruments are used in particular functions, for example melody, countermelody, pads, arpeggios.

Take notice if a composer uses particular instrument doubles for a part. For example I use harp doubled with celesta quite frequently. You could say that’s a characteristic for me as a composer.

I know lots of musician really hate this part (guilty too!) but trust me: it’s totally worth it to actually know what the hell you’re doing.

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3 – Compare to… you!

You probably noticed lots of things while analyzing your inspirational music that you like. Things you like to do yourself. Little things like a certain chord progression, or a particular instrument double, or a little motif that caught your eye (or ear)…

Make a list of all those things, but only – and I mean ONLY – when you really like said chord, motif or thingy.

Long long ago, when I was a young student in Groningen (that really is long ago!) we had to write a piece using the style of Ennio Morricone. Our teacher showed us the movie Cinema Paradiso (check it out, it’s very beautiful. I even cried) and we had to choose one of the musical themes to work with. I chose the title theme and these things really captured me:

  • Very long melodic phrases
  • Phrases often start with an anacrusis
  • Countermelody does a lot of 3rd / 6th parallelling
  • Pedal point
  • All filled in with arpeggiated chords

4 – Choose your characteristics

Now it’s come down to picking the characteristics you want to work with. Do you need to write something that sounds like it could’ve been written by said inspirational composer? Choose more characteristics. Do you have a lot of creative freedom, make it more your own thing by choosing less features!

Two questions that can help you:

  • Which characteristics are most typical for this composer?
  • Which characteristics suit my own style really well?

5 – Style copying – write that stuff!

Time to make it all your own! Write your own thematic material and crate something beautiful from it by using some of the other composer’s features.

Don’t stress out if you don’t use everything you wanted to use,and don’t be afraid to try something you initially didn’t choose. Remember this is a trick, a formula, not an absolute rule. It’s important to have fun!


Want to hear an example? Check out my “Morriconic” music.

   “Cinema Paradiso” by Ennio Morricone on Spotify    “Child theme” by yours truly on Soundcloud


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