Timothy's Blog

Timothy's blog on dulcimers, music, nature and life!

You can compose music from special groups of notes!

You can compose music from special groups of notes!

In music the French word motif’ simply means a group of notes that you use to start a musical composition and to refer to throughout the composition for unity.  That’s all!

Maybe the most famous example of a motif is the set of theme notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony:  ‘Di-di-di-dah’ (used in the Second World War as Morse Code for ‘V’ for victory) --- and if you listen to that matchless symphony you can hear Beethoven developing an entire movement --- with references throughout the rest of the whole work --- from that simple set of three notes, G-G-G-Eb (in the key of C minor).

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Playing without a plan can be great

Playing without a plan can be great

Are you a musician who is tied to the page?  Do you need to have notes printed in front of you in order to play?  Or do you have to depend on a carefully rehearsed repertoire?  Do you require a chord chart so you know the right harmonic structure?  Or are distinct melodies your only option when you play?

Here's an example of how totally 'out of the blue' playing can be beneficial:

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A lot of helpful ideas for playing PENNYWHISTLE

A lot of helpful ideas for playing PENNYWHISTLE

At some point in their lives, many casual musicians and serious players of other instruments pick up a simple “pennywhistle” or “tin whistle” and try to play it for fun or as a special extra sound along with their other music.  Other folks won’t even attempt it, afraid that they’ll sound horrible.  Well, I think you can at least attempt it, especially since there are a lot of pretty good whistles available for less than twenty dollars in most music stores!  And they have only six holes that produce the regular do-re-mi scale!  Hopefully you can come up with a decent sound with a little exploration; I’ve compiled here a list of helpful ideas that I’ve amassed over the past thirty-some years as I’ve been playing whistle and sharing what I know with other players:

1) Where can they be found?

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You can improvise --- yes, you! Free Improvisation on the Black Keys

Even if you don't know anything about music, you can be a musician immediately --- really!

There is a very common idea out there that says that only people with special gifts can make music, and that only extremely rare folks have that added mystical ability to compose and improvise music that has never been done before.

Well, there is a certain measure of truth in that, as there is about giftedness in all areas --- but I disagree with the word "only"!  Music has a structure that will do all sorts of things for you if you just let it.  And the simplest introduction to this is something I still enjoy after a lifetime of improvising:

Look at a piano keyboard.  You'll see that the black keys are arranged in a repeating pattern of twos and threes.  If you play all the twos you'll see that they're all the same two notes, just different by being in higher and lower octaves.  The same is true of the threes, too.  Well, combine a set of twos with a neighboring set of threes, and you'll get a nice-sounding combination of five notes that happens to be the most universally popular scale of all time --- a "pentatonic" (five-note) scale.  (Some very famous tunes use that very scale, such as "Amazing Grace.")

Now you have the structure of music at your disposal, and you can make nice music without knowing anything else!

Pick three or four notes (technically we call this a "motif"), say, the bottom of the group of three keys and then the two of the two-key group.  Play those three notes twice in a row, then repeat them in the opposite order, then back to the first, then add one of the other notes you hadn't played yet, or change one of the notes, and just start wandering around on the black keys and occasionally returning to the first set of notes you played.  You will probably start hearing a new free-form melody emerging!  It may even seem surprisingly organized, and very likely quite pretty.

Keep experimenting:  Try a new set of notes, or a new rhythm, a new speed, whatever you feel like.  Maybe two different notes at the same time.

I'm aware, too, that some people are expert musicians who have, say, played wonderful Chopin on the piano all their lives but have never tried a single note that's not from a master's written page.  This concept is just as freeing for them as for novices!

And now for one last idea: Can you, even at this stage of new improvising, make music that says something special, that creates a certain mood, that moves your very own soul?

I do think so!

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