Tip #69 – Interpolation of Quotes

From music of the Renaissance era, to the prime-time of jazz, and all the way to now in present-day, musicians have been using other famous works as “quotes” within their music.

Obviously, one does run into the problem of plagiarism or lack of originality depending on how the quote is used. Using music in the public domain is a safe way to get around the act of plagiarism, and your own creativity will solve the remaining problem.

The main goal of quoting a well-known theme embedded into your piece is to reinvent it. in some way, shape, or form. People have taken a theme and used it as a cantus firmus, bass-line, fragmented motif, etc. before. If you are expecting to use it as a primary melodic idea, here is a checklist of tips:

  • Context – Is the theme “well-known” for your intended audience? Does it fit the composition (thematically, harmonically, melodically, motifically, fluidly)? Can the quote be paraphrased in some way? How about restated?
  • Reconfiguration – Will you be able to adjust the pitches and rhythms without losing the premise of the quote? Can the quote be developed into later themes used? What about broken fragments?
  • Inflection – what emotional, symbolic, ironic, personal, or associative meaning does this new and reworked quote provide to your composition? Is it worth it?


Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.


Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s