Opening notes

A while back I started noticing something interesting and odd about songs. Songs that are completely different from each other can start out in exactly the same way.

I think we don’t usually notice such things because we are generally looking for the larger meaning of a song. Particulars of melody are received by us as merely part of a larger emotional story that the song is telling.

For example, think of the title song from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls and John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane. It would be hard to think of two songs that are more different in genre and in underlying emotional message.

Yet the first five notes of the melody of these two songs are identical (modulo transposition). They both start out 1-2-4-3-1 (do re fa me do) in the major diatonic scale.

With a little thought, you can probably think of other pairs of songs that share this property of identical opening melodies. I wonder whether there is a word for this phenomenon.

I’m open to suggestions.

One thought on “Opening notes”

  1. I don’t know if this post inspired the thought, but two themes whose similarity hit me today are Flight of the Navigator and Jurassic Park.

    I imagine FotN as a sus4 chord moving down by a fifth to another sus4 chord, like G-C-D to C-F-G. Conceived of that way, it captures the feel of the movie exactly right in just a few notes: a little “spacey” and non-tertian, opening with simple perfect intervals and a little added warmth of neighbor tones.

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