Welcome back to the blog! This is the 15th consecutive week of improvisation tips and we’re going to start into a multi-week series on motifs. A motif is a recurring subject, theme or idea. In the case of improvisations, motifs become great vehicles for improvisation because we can develop a simple idea into something more. Over the course of this series, we’re going to take a simple motif and show what we can do to develop it. Below is the motif we’re going to use throughout this series:

The above is a very simple idea (in this case a short blues lick). There are a number of different ways that we can develop a motif. We can look at the actual notes, contour/shape, rhythm, intervals, harmony (if the motif implies a harmony), articulation, etc. However, over the next couple of week’s we’re going to look at the first four: notes, contour/shape, rhythm and intervals. Below are the first three elements (we’ll get into intervals later):


We will look at how we can develop each of these areas as we go along, but we will also be examining how we use those developments in terms of targeting. Those that have been following or studying with me know that I’m very BIG on targeting-or aiming at a goal note with purpose. My book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose discusses some of the different ways we can creatively target a note. Each motif we use or the development of the motif we use should still be aiming at a target.

When we develop a motif, we look at the original elements listed above (notes, contour/shape, rhythms, etc) as outlines for what we could do with the motif to make it slightly different while still resembling the original idea. Each idea or development leads to another (a great example is Sonny Rollin’s solo on St. Thomas). As the improviser, it’s up to you to decide which elements you want to manipulate to develop the idea. You can develop one element at a time or multiple elements at once. For me, when I’m developing a motif during an improvisation-I like to change one or two elements at a time so each development is easily recognizable to the listener. In a way, it’s like time-lapse photography. The listener watches one frame slowly turn into something completely different.

Below is a simple example of changing a few elements at a time over the first four bars of a “C-Blues.” The first bar is a statement of the original motif. The second bar keeps the same rhythm and general shape/contour, but I’m changing the notes. The third bar is an exact quotation of the original motif. The fourth bar keeps the same rhythm, but slightly changes the notes and the shape/contour. You’ll also notice that each of the examples targets the 7th, root, #9 and 3rd (in that order). It was important that I kept the concept of targeting while developing the motif.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll really dive into developing the motif’s notes, rhythms, shape/contour and intervals. I hope you’ll continue following this series and have found this week’s tip helpful. If you have, please share this blog with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site that you might be a contributer or frequent. Over the past couple of weeks there has been an increase in new friends following the blog (and buying my book) from outside of the US and wanted to say thank you and welcome! For those that haven’t checked out Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose, you can click on the link to the right or go to Jason Klobnak Music for more information. There’s also a short web commercial with reviews and testimonials below from those that have found the book beneficial.

I hope you enjoy and we’ll see you next week!

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