Author Topic: How do you come up with a motif?  (Read 2076 times)

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luke

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How do you come up with a motif?
« on: August 10, 2017, 08:33:31 PM »
The motif is the hardest part of a composition for me. Once I have a good motif I'm satisfied with - I go through literally dozens of them before deciding - my creative juices can start overflowing. Sometimes I find myself making music out of a really nonsensical combination of notes, almost to the point it is like atonal 12-tone, and I get tired of some melodies really quickly.

How do you create a good motif (good, meaning one you particularly like and would use throughout a composition)? How do you keep yourself from overusing it or underusing it and going to several other different themes? Cough, looking at Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1. And how do you expand on it?
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Michel.R.E

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2017, 10:32:22 PM »
there are multiple ways of expanding on thematic material.

for example, you can alter key intervals. it your theme starts with lots of 3rds, you can start gradually changing that so new appearances of the theme contain 4ths instead.

You can invert intervals, so instead of a rising 2md you might have a falling 7th.

You can expand rhythmically. turn runs of 8ths into triplets, then 16ths, etc...

You can break up your material into component parts and repeat some of those inner components, alter intervals of those components, etc... (the same processes as those suggested at the start of this post)



As to "coming up with" themes/motifs, well, that's what composing is. It's up to you to find material that inspires you to work on it and develop it.
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Ron

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2017, 05:15:09 AM »
Motives are those fragmentary ideas that waft through my mind, many of which are junk, some of which can be expanded upon and played with. It can be something as simple as C - F# - Ab - G in a catchy little rhythm. Or a "doodle" like C - Eb - Db - En - Dn. I have no idea where they come from, except that my mind is constantly creating them.  In any case, what one does with them is where the art come in. Michel gave some excellent ideas to begin with, but, to me, a useful  motive already contains hints of where it can go.
Ron
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Jamie Kowalski

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2017, 07:56:34 AM »
My method is a bit wobbly.

I tend to just throw lots of notes to page until I like something. I massage the notes a bit, and come up with a passage or two that I like. Only then do I start looking for a motif inside of what I've already written. It's sort of reverse-engineering my sketch, until I find an element that is at the core of its success. Then I take that core, and start using it for the composition process.

Michel.R.E

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2017, 08:05:51 AM »
I'll often start from an "intellectual" idea.. some concept that I would like to develop, like a specific interval,or combination, or a rhythm, or when writing for a specific instrument some element that would only be playable on that particular instrument.

Once I've settled on that aspect, I might let my hands fall on the keyboard and see what comes from that, or explore some of the basic harmonic techniques that are part of my harmonic language.

I've also resorted to the "reverse engineering" approach at least once - in my 2nd symphony, the final movement, I took what was a recurring 5-note motif throughout the symphony, and from that actually filled out the missing seven notes to make a tone row, then used the material in a very loosely structured way as two halves of a single theme (one 7-notes long, the other 5-notes long).
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mjf1947

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2020, 09:54:56 AM »
Hi all,

I just noticed this thread from 3 years ago.

As I have often said .... my motif(s) come from hands on playing the Oboe.  In the past it was exploring the piano keyboard; although for whatever reason ... the Oboe works better for me.

Mark

SallyS

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2020, 03:49:22 PM »
I find ideas from many sources.... Sometimes from playing around on the piano.... sometimes they pop in to my head.. quite often lyrics can be my first inspiration..... But sometimes motifs arrive from outside sources. Funnily .... a song that I've been working on over the last week...  was from a bird call. As Ron says.... I'm not really sure how they arrive.... but they do. I don't really understand what happens when you suddenly decide that that little combination of notes is the right one... But something does click in me. After that.... I think there is then one more step before i decide how to develop the motif.... I decide how I'm  going to use it.... Is it for strings... woodwind... voice.... is it going to be low or high.... Is it a slow motif or fast... Will it be a solo instrument, ensemble or full orchestra..... and what style. So many questions before i even start to think about how to run with it. And that stage can sometimes be quick.... because the material sort of tells me what it wants... But at othertimes it might be years before I decide what to do with it. And then when I start working with a motif.... sometimes it flows away... again like Ron says the motif gives you hints..... but then at other times it's hard work... totally mathematical.  And after working with a motif there are times when i have to let it go.... it's not successful... so i either ditch it.... or keep it for a later day. I find the process fascinating. Our brains are very complex aren't they? I wonder if Luke found any answers to his questions in 2017!! Is he still on the forum? It's a good subject to discuss... but I think there is no definitive answer... we're all different whilst aiming for the same goal. 😀

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: How do you come up with a motif?
« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2020, 02:29:44 PM »
The most frequent source for a theme for me comes from lyrics in my head.
 
Even if they're wordless, I have a sense of the ideas in a monologue.
 
Cheers,
Jer
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