You may be wondering what a motif is, and if you are keep reading. A motive, also known as motif, is simply a connected melody. The best way to explain this is by comparing music to language. When you are playing a melody or solo you are in essence telling a story. A motive is building the story and keeping the same theme. Take this story for example: I bought bubble gum. Clouds are very dark. Then They danced.” This type of story is not connected and leaves people with nothing to hang on to. A good story has a theme. A good solo has a motif.
Giving listeners something to grab onto is something that can set the average garage guitarist apart from the experienced pro. Take for example the song “You are so beautiful”, The words are “you are so beautiful to me” over and over except for a small amount. These lyrics are simple, but the listener can hold on to it and sing with it. The most catchy melodies are repetitive. Applying this concept in your playing can bring clarity and coherence to your playing to make you sound much better than you really are. All you need to do is find a simple melody you like and expand upon it.
What makes a good motif? A motif can be any very simple lick. You can pick a nursery rhyme or make your own 3 or 4 note riff. Once you have this as your basis and you introduced it at the beginning of your solo, you can expand upon it. Adding more notes, sequencing, rhythmic variation are all things you can use to expand upon your motif. I should clarify that the motif should not be long. It should be short and used as a guideline for building your melodies. Also I should make it clear that you can deviate from your motif whenever you want and however you want. The motif is just a great tool to connect your solo and make it sound logical and easy to grasp to the audience.
When should you use motif development? Is this for certain styles? Motif development can be used anytime and any style. If you are playing a style such as country where you may have a 4 – 8 measure solo motive development is great. Many great solos in country are based off of a theme. An example of this is “kiss a girl” by Keith Urban. If you are playing more of the instrumental style such as jazz or progressive rock this technique is great because it can expand your ideas much further. We guitarist only have a limited amount of licks and we need a way to keep them fresh. Motif development is great for this. An example in jazz of motif development is Sonny Rollins “St. Thomas” on the record “Sonny Rollins”.
This is a fun technique you can use and it will be your best friend if you work with it. It is the easiest way to make your solo sound logical and make it interesting to listen to. Have fun experimenting with motif development and have fun becoming a story-teller. Feel free to share your opinions below.