p63

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~ motifs ~

~ figure ~ riff ~ ditty ~

'... bits of melody to suggest, conjure and build upon ~

~ and then to add some chords, i.e. to harmonize a melody ~

In a nutshell. Motifs can be a spark of an idea that then energizes a new work of art into existence. As musicians these works become songs in many forms and settings. How and where a motif comes to us is often secondary to what we do when it shows up; and not let it slip away. Can we write its notes and rhythm down ? Capture it by making a recording of it ? Sing the words, write them, and play it over and over till it 's ours forever. For truth be known we all have and will at some point along the way experience that ... 'I let a song go out of my heart.'

wiki ~ "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart"

The following exercises for strengthening our creative skills involves having a motif, an idea for a song, and developing it towards that goal; writing the idea into becoming a song. For once we have an idea; a few words ( a hook ), a couple of pitches, a rhythm or groove, we have a spark to begin with.

While we each have our own ways forward once we've an idea, know that over time, and in doing this a few times, our methods will probably evolve too, all depending on the motif and where we take it. For example, once we're cool with the 12 bar blues form, near any motif can be shaped into a blues song. Might not be the best blues song ever written, but it'll work to get started on the idea. So if a bluesy motif comes along, we've an initial form to quickly place it in, give it to the band, and see how it all works out, adjusting as we go.

Each of our styles and genres have their traditional ways of shaping up their songs. And often the four bar phrase cores them all. The rhythm of a motif, or just a rhythm idea itself, can initially get a song in motion as surely does the rhyming of the poetry / lyrics motif that tell the story. Gain experience by doing it, knowing that these components will all mix together in varying degrees to ready us. For when inspiration strikes ... it strikes ... And we want to be ready :)

A couple of basics. A most common way of developing a motif of is to simply run the idea over and over. Age old now, this is kinda what happens when a 'tune gets stuck in our head.' But we do it on purpose. So not really a problem for us composers. Over and over gives the idea a chance to shape itself, especially when we take a break from and then come back to it.

'Over and over' also creates a window for an idea to re-invent itself in its own organic ways, 'improvise itself.' For often in its repetition a slight or large error will occur, some of which can show a new way forward in development of the idea. Jazz leaning artists, and improvisers in general, rely on 'over and over, to learn a motif as well as develop them into art.

It's the same for all of us, always remember some songs will write themselves like butter, others will require a lot of attention to get all its puzzle pieces to fit. And in writing larger works; a symphony, film score, theme albums, commissions and such, these take time, often weeks and months, years even, to write, polish and present, if that's the goal. Yet still, all songs start with a spark; an idea, a motif, a motive, a riff or ditty, a theme that we build new musical art upon.

Call and response. Old as the hills now, if we can build our motive into a 'call', chances are a response is not too far away. For example, with lyrics we might have;

... a call line such as ...

"All we are saying ... "

... and a response of ...

"Is give peace a chance."

And in this 'back and forth' we bring both a message, and everyone in the room, together ... with just a lil' motif. Included in this e-book also is the Americana spiritual; "Let My People Go", a musical line and words response that many can learn on the first try, thus becoming a part of a united family in congregation.

wiki ~ "Give Peace A Chance"
wiki ~ "Go Down Moses"

Theme and variations. Once we have a motif of a few bars that we've shaped into a theme for a song of say eight bars, a common compositional technique is to create 'variations' of the original idea. In doing so we can dimensionalize our motif to really any proportions. And while not quite as old perhaps as 'call and response', we've been doing this all along as creative beings in prolly every aspect of our lives. See something that looks cool or will better our day to day doings, recreate it with our own imagination and resources at hand.

Classical composers love to build up their instrumental songs with this technique, and as the generations passed from say the 17th century forward, especially when the equal temper tuning take hold, .

Over and over. A most common way of developing a motif of is to simply run the idea over and over. Age old now, this is what happens when a 'tune gets stuck in our head.' So not really a problem for us composers. Over and over gives the idea a chance to shape itself, especially when we take a break and come back to it.

With lyrics. While some lyrics write themselves, just pouring out and flowing off the top, most do not. Here we can write down our words and poetry, speak them aloud and find their rhythms. Don't be surprised if there's a pile of rewrites at the completion of a song. For in the writing process not only does the magic appear, but will vanish too. So just like most things, the more we do it the better we get at the doing :)

A legend. A secret of Mozart's problem solving in composing is said to be ... 'just lie on the floor and run the music through the noodle, over and over, drift off into a nap if appropriate, and the notes needed will manifest.' Worked for Mozart, has worked for me too though in addition to getting horizontal I'll also jump on the bicycle, or go for a walk, anything really that creates a 'reflective' zone to give 'me Muse a way in to help solve the current puzzle.'

wiki ~ Mozart

Need a riff / motif ? With this in mind, here's a few motifs, all in 'C' and 'A' minor key centers. And for guitar, located in 5th position with the original pitches of the "Frishelli shape." Pick one and develop it by creating a sequence of the motif. Or try 'theme and variations. 'Call and response' just might be the ticket.

and into the bonus !!! ... and other keys too :)

Harmonizing melodies. One of the features of a formal school curriculum is to study in depth how to harmonize the pitches of the melody with supportive chords. For in our composing traditions of the last 500 years or so, flowing melody notes over supportive chords and mostly rhythmically aligned in time has ruled the day and is a pillar of Americana songwriting. Theory termed homophonic music, this composing technique is Euro based and historically follows right along with fine tuning the pitches and building a piano.

In learning this magic we can follow the 'theory' rule of diatonic harmony, which gets most of the pieces in place, then jazz it up however from there. The 'style' of a song plays huge in this process too, and helps to shape and mix the colors we choose to glue up together. And there's a couple of basics in determining the 'diatonic harmony of a style.'

A spectrum of styles and harmony. Crazy to think this way but we're back to our 'numbers of pitches' basis. For we can count up the notes in the chords and see how many we get, then roll through the styles and watch as to get a styles' flavor, we often need to add a pitch or two. Adding the blues hue, all through the American weave of styles and genres, is very common and often requires an extra pitch or so for supporting chords.

Goes like this. We've 12 total pitches for sure and half a dozen or so broad style categories, add in genres and there's a ton more combinations. Thus, the following left to right visualization emerges. Example 1.

musical style
om ~ blues
kid's folk blues gospel
bluegrass rock country
pop
adv. jazz
# of pitches
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

So in developing a motif into a song, once we've a style and a few pitches, we've the first pieces of the new puzzle and it's development gets under way.

Spelling the chords. In getting chords with melody pitches, knowing how to spell out the letters of the chords is the great facilitator here. Easily rote learned, here's the magic in chart form. Example 2.

scale # degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
arpeggio # degrees
1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
C major arpeggio
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
C
diatonic triads
CEG
DFA
EGB
FAC
GBD
ACE
BDF
CEG
analysis numbers
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
2 octave scale
C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
1 3 5 7 9 11 13 1 5
C . E . G . B . D . F . A . C

Now with spelling out the letters of each chord in the key of 'C', we gots some options for the pitches of our melody. A lot of this 'bolts right up' of course, then we need to make art out of it as the story tells, then jazz it up if need be.

What's our melody note ? Staying in the key of 'C', if our song's melody is 'C', then all the three note triads with a 'C' in them will work. Thus:

'C' melody note = CEG, FAC, ACE.

'D' melody note = DFA, GBD, BDF.

'E' melody note = CEG, EGB, ACE.

'F' melody note = FAC, DFA, BDF.

'G' melody note = GBD, EGB, CEG.

'A' melody note = ACE, FAC, DFA.

'B' melody note = BDF, GBD, EGB.

Cool ?

Which to choose? Next we get to decide which chord has the right mojo for the melody note chosen. In these choices its mostly about the story of the song. If we add in a song's bass line story melody notes with the melody / lyrics melody note, chances are we'll get a puzzle piece or two to gets things started off. Combine these two melodies and voila ... chord progressions. :) with the melody, then. Thinking in 'C' major ...

soprano melody notes:

C E G A G

solid chords are CEG and FAC

' C '

bass melody notes

or in the key of 'A' minor

soprano melody notes:

C E G A C

solid chords are ACE and DFA

' A '

bass melody notes

Review. Find a lick or two, a bit of a ditty to spark off a song ? Cool. For in lots and lots of everything, it's an idea ... a what if ... that sparks a step on a pathway and a view into a new portal of discovery and invention.

 

"The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known."

 

wiki ~ Pete Seeger

References. References for this page's information comes from school, books and the bandstand and made way easier by the folks along the way.

Find a mentor / e-book / academia Alaska. Always good to have a mentor when learning about things new to us. And with music and its magics, nice to have a friend or two ask questions and collaborate with. Seek and ye shall find. Local high schools, libraries, friends and family, musicians in your home town ... just ask around, someone will know someone who knows someone about music and can help you with your studies in the musical arts.

go to a public library and ask the librarian

Always keep in mind that all along life's journey there will be folks to help us and also folks we can help ... for we are not in this endeavor alone :) The now ancient natural truth is that we each are responsible for our own education. Positive answer this always 'to live by' question; 'who is responsible for your education ... ?

Intensive tutoring. Luckily for musical artists like us, the learning dip of the 'covid years' can vanish quickly with intensive tutoring. For all disciplines; including all the sciences and the 'hands on' trade schools, that with tutoring, learning blossoms to 'catch us up.' In music ? The 'theory' of making musical art is built with just the 12 unique pitches, so easy to master with mentorship. And in 'practice ?' Luckily old school, the foundation that 'all responsibility for self betterment is ours alone.' Which in music, and same for all the arts, means to do what we really love to do ... to make music :)

 

"These books, and your capacity to understand them, are just the same in all places. Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."

wiki ~ Abraham Lincoln

Academia references of Alaska. And when you need university level answers to your questions and musings, and especially if you are considering a career in music and looking to continue your formal studies, begin to e-reach out to the Alaska University Music Campus communities and begin a dialogue with some of Alaska's finest resident maestros !

University of Alaska

University of Alaska Anchorage Music

University of Alaska Fairbanks Music Education

~ comments or questions ... ? ~

~ jacmuse@ak.net ~