[Sheet Music]

Lesson 124: Motif and Motivic Saturation

What is a Motif?

A motif is a short musical idea, i.e. a small melodic/ rhythmic figure. It can consist of 2- 4 notes and it can be played around with to make up a musical theme or a whole composition.

Motivic Saturation Techniques

The motivic saturation techniques are:

  • repetition
  • rhythmic displacement
  • rhythmic transformation - diminution, augmentation
  • sequence
  • intervallic transformation
  • embellishment
  • truncation vs. extension/ elaboration
  • inversion
  • retrograde
  • rotation or shuffling

Examples from My Composition Blue Tango

The lead sheet of Blue Tango can be found here. You can listen to it here.

The melody of my composition Blue Tango is made up of the simple motif b - c# - d. This motivic idea is then sequenced in bar 5, sequenced again in bar 6, retrograded in the 2nd voice in bar 6, inverted in bar 18, retrograded again in bar 22 and really played around with in the coda - bars 37- 42...

Below are examples of most of the motivic saturation techniques mentioned above. Not all of them are used in Blue Tango, but most are used in one way or the other. I did not consciously think about this when I wrote the melody, it just happened...


Listen to the following tunes:

  • Blue Seven by Sonny Rollins
  • Camp Out by John Scofield
  • Hollow Talk by Choir of Young Believers
  • Imppu's Tango by Pekka Pohjola
  • In the Mood - Glenn Miller
  • King Kong by Frank Zappa
  • Lady Bird by Tadd Dameron
  • Little Shoes by Mike Stern
  • Love for Sale by Cole Porter
  • My Heart Belongs to Daddy by Cole Porter
  • Rhythm-a-Ning by Thelonious Monk
  • Riddle Me This by Aaron Parks
  • Ruby, My Dear by Thelonious Monk
  • St. Thomas by Sonny Rollins
  • Suspone by Mike Stern
  • Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Take Five by Paul Desmond

2014 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.