Lesson 5: Variation and Scale Degrees 5 and 7
Focus on Form and Harmony
Once you create a musical idea, you have three choices as to what to do with that idea: repeat it, create a variation on it, or make a contrast. We can manage these three composition techniques to develop our ideas and our solos. Lessons 1 through 4 have all featured repetition by playing a short rhythmic riff and repeating it several times. This lesson focuses on the concept of variation.
Musical variation means that we keep some elements of an idea the same but change other aspects of it. For our variations in this lesson, we need to be aware of the rhythm, pitches, and contour of our ideas. Also, in this lesson, we are going to expand our harmonic range by composing with scale degrees 5 and 7 of our blues chords. Refer to Lesson 3 for an introduction to harmony and chords.
Scale degrees 5 and 7 for the B flat 7, E flat 7, C-7, and F7 chords:
Here are some common ways to create a variation on a one-measure riff. In the following examples, the second measure is a variation of the first measure. With rhythmic variations, the pitch and contour remain the same.
Rhythmic addition: Alter the rhythm by adding a note:
Rhythmic subtraction: Alter the rhythm by subtracting a note:
Rhythmic change: Alter the note values in the riff, while keeping the pitches the same:
Beat displacement: Alter the rhythm by placing it on a different beat. In this case, we have the exact same rhythm pattern, but in the variation measure it is shifted from beat one to beat two:
We can also keep the rhythm the same, but alter the pitches:
A variation can be created by using the same rhythm and group of pitches, while altering the contour.
Also, we can combine any of the techniques listed above to form a variation. The main point to remember when creating variations is that part of the idea remains the same, and part of it is changed. The possibilities are infinite.
Here are four-measure variations on each of the chords of our blues progression. They use a combination of the types of variation listed above.
Four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on B flat 7:
Four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on E flat 7:
Four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on C-7:
Four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on F7:
Lesson 5 Assignment
Compose four, four-measure phrases that follow the structure of idea-variation-variation-variation, as demonstrated in the examples.
Part 1.1: Compose a four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on B flat 7
Part 1.2: Compose a four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on E flat 7
Part 1.3: Compose a four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on C-7
Part 1.4: Compose a four-measure variation using scale degrees 5 and 7 on F7
Memorize all of the riffs you composed and repeat them many times. Play along with the matching recording of the sustained chords of the B flat blues. Your goal is to play them all effortlessly and accurately.
Improvise four-measure variations on each of the sustained chords of the B flat blues, as you did in the composition assignment. Play along with the recordings of each individual chord. Be consciously aware of what kind of variation you are creating and what aspect of the idea you are altering -- rhythm, pitch, or contour.
Suggested exercises for solo practice: Trade fours with silence. In other words, play a four-measure variation and then rest for four measures.
Trade fours with yourself by creating a new idea after each four-measure variation.
Continue the variations for more than four measures -- keep playing new variations as long as you can.
Suggested exercises and ideas for group practice: Trade fours with each other and trade fours with silence.
Create variations on one another’s ideas: one musician plays a one-measure idea, the next musicians creates a variation on that idea, the next musician creates a variation on that idea, etc.