Variation of Motifs

Variation of motifs is a good technique for longer improvised solos. A motif is a brief rhythmic or melodic theme.

Example 30
example 30

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Motifs are used to build phrases. Composed melodies display structure; similarly, motifs are used to create structure, in a solo. In a longer solo, the motif keeps recurring and makes the audience perceive a structure in the solo. Motifs can vary: a new motif may occur, the earlier motif may occur again; two motifs can merge and become yet another motif, and so on.

It is recommended that the audience be able to perceive a connection between a variation and the original motif; in other words, a variation must include elements familiar from the original motif.

Variation Methods:

1) melody intact, rhythm varies.

  • Rhythmic displacement
  • Extending/contracting a phrase
  • Change of rhythm

2) rhythm intact, melody varies

  • Melodic displacement
  • Horizontal mirroring
  • Completely different tones

3) vertical mirroring

4) elements added before, after or in the middle of a motif

5) phrases consisting of a few notes

6) combinations of the above

Motif-based improvisation is best started with working on the rhythm. First practice building motifs. Switch on the metronome or another rhythm device in 4/4 time. Sing a brief rhythm (less than a bar). Take a pause of one bar and think about the rhythm for the next bar. Keep going like this, keeping in mind the 8-bar structure. Start with crotchets and quavers. Later you can apply triplets, dotted notes, semiquavers, and so on. If it feels difficult to produce rhythms singing, try writing them down first.