I'm new to creating music and trying to understand how everything works. I have been trying to look for instruments I like and I just can not find any good download packs. I have even bought a couple expensive ones but it's just not what I want.

I have recently found out about "stems" and some songs I really like have some stems available to download. I would like to download these stems and take the instrument they use in it. For example If they use a trumpet I will take the trumpet track, cut out 1 trumpet note and re-pitch and edit it to however I like and put that in my song.

No, I do not want to make a remix. I am not taking the WHOLE track. I am ONLY interested in the instrument they use. If this is not possible then could I go onto youtube, download a video where someone plays their guitar, take one note they play on that guitar and edit it and put that in my song?

Is this legal? Do other people do this?

  • If all you want is the timbre of a type of instrument, you could use a source which is either out of copyright, or a federal government created work which isn't copyrighted, or a creative commons work, as your source, or get permission to record someone who plays that instrument for a fee.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 23:02

4 Answers 4


Your question is whether you can copy instrumental portions of recorded music, and modify it to create a new work, without permission. The answer is that this is illegal. This would be creating a "derivative work", and under copyright law, only the copyright holder has the right to authorize creation of a derivative work. Whether or not you have paid for a copy of a recording, you would still need a separate license to legally extract and use part of a recording. This includes taking just one instrument, and includes taking just a part of one instrument. Material on Youtube is subject to different licenses: in some cases items are free of restrictions, in some cases, you can't legally copy them at all. The standard Youtube license does not allow any copying.

Copyright infringement of music is rather common. Enforcement of copyright must be pursued by the copyright holder, and you would need to discuss your specific plans with a copyright attorney to determine your probability of getting sued. Ultimately, you might get away with minimal copying, relying on a fair use defense (you still get sued, but you might prevail and not have to pay). There are street rumors that there is an N-note threshold for copyright infringement, where people often pick numbers from 3 to 7, but in fact there is no clear rule. This resource assembles relevant case law.

Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films, in the 6th District, establishes the rule that any amount of copying is infringement, whereas VMG Salsoul, LLC v. Ciccone in the 9th District rejects that finding and allowed a case of .23 seconds (230 milliseconds) of copying. The "de minimis" doctrine is independent of "fair use" which has a statutory basis, but seems to have arisen from similarity doctrines which are involved in proving that copying took place.

  • 2
    I don't know about copyright laws, but it seems to me OP's intention to take only one isolated note (that is, a sound with one same value of Herz) falls short of copyright infringement. That being said, I imagine that such method to create music will require so much labor that the OP might end up [desisting and] taking a different approach. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 20:50
  • A somewhat dangerous position. SCOTUS hasn't sorted out the status of de minimis copying, and .23 seconds of copying would be illegal in the 6th District, though not the 9th District.
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 20:56
  • Interesting (+1). Do you recall which one is the 6th Cir. decision regarding the 0.23 seconds of copying? From the list you shared, I see there are 5 cases from that appellate court (and 14 from the 9th Cir.). I'm rather asking on behalf of the OP. I am not much interested in copyright law so far, but your clarification shows how important it is for an artist/musician to get acquainted with the judicial rationale on that topic. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 21:07
  • 2
    You missed the decimal place. Less than a quarter of a second.
    – user6726
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 22:25
  • 2
    @phoog Getting old is hell. Just got bifocals myself and I am missing those kinds of things all the tie.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 23:00

This seems not to be actually about taking a tiny amount of music from a music recording, but about getting a sample of a music instrument. There are people recording say individual trumpet notes, likely in various degrees of loudness, and creating an "instrument" that can be used by a synthesizer so a keyboard player can create something that sounds remarkably like a trumpet.

If I create a record and want some trumpet music on it but not hire a trumpet player, I can pay for such an artificial "trumpet". I pay a license fee, and that will give me the right to use this recording in my own music. The creator of the (digital) instrument has the copyright. My music recording is a derived work (with plenty of my own copyrighted components obviously), but with a proper license, so I am fine.

The OP isn't actually interested in a copy of my music. He wants to get the notes from the "trumpet" instrument. That's what he expressly said at the beginning of the post. Extracting the instrument will be copyright infringement, and it will be most definitely not "fair use" or "de minimis" because what he is doing is directly destroying the livelihood of the instrument creator.


I can fill out with more detail later, but the Sixth Circuit held in Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, 410 F.3d 792 (6th Cir. 2005) that basically any sampling of a sound recording, no matter how short, is an infringing use.

Despite that, you may still be able to establish a fair use defense, but that's going to be very fact-specific.

  • 1
    How would this end up in court in the first place? It seems unlikely that anyone would recognize a single note from any recording.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 22:25
  • There are some pretty iconic first notes. Hard Day's Night is pretty hard to miss. Only slightly less distinctive are ABC, Go Your Own Way, Bennie and the Jets, Maggie Mae, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Stairway to Heaven, Beat It, Jump, and Walk This Way. Still, I'd imagine that something just shy of 100 percent of all other single notes are untraceable. But Bridgeport suggests that it can happen (although that was actually three notes). Given the industry's presumably sophisticated means of sniffing this sort of thing out, and the steep statutory penalties, I wouldn't screw around with it.
    – bdb484
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 1:20
  • On the other hand, taking a sample (or even a few) from an iconic Miles Davis (for example) recording and using it as a timbre to play another piece of music would likely go undetected.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 1:37

Yes. Instruments are not protected under copyright law. They're too simple.

He said instruments, not melody or something that is protected.

  • Instruments in this case are programs or extensions to a program that contain hundreds of sound samples.
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 14:58
  • Fonts are protected. Voices (for text-to-speech conversion) are protected. Recording of instruments are protected. Do you have any idea what it costs to create a decent instrument based on recording a Bösendorfer piano?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 19:07

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