Jason Sadites is a guitarist from Canada who has been teaching guitar since the age of 16, and has a consistent roster of between 60-70 students.
His latest CD, "Weve", showcases his strong melodies, tight harmonies and amazing solos over the songs incredible grooves.
For more information, visit Jason's
site at www.sadites.com. Comments may be directed to Jsaon Sadites.
© Jason Sadites
Click here for a printer-friendly version of "Using Theme and Variation in Composing".
One of the most effective tools in keeping a composition interesting is
the use of theme and variation. Throughout my years teaching, one of the
most common 'mistakes' I came across was students who lacked variety in
their compositions. It is one thing to come up with a great riff, lick
or melody, but it is something altogether different to be able to
develop those ideas so they become a song that will grab the listener
and keep his/her attention. This column is going to focus on ideas to
help take an interesting musical idea and develop it throughout a piece
To do this I am going to use a musical example from my CD "Orbit" and
show you how I took a simple melody as my theme and used variation
throughout the song to keep it interesting. This example is from the
song "Nail Biter".
The main theme here is based off of the E Phrygian Dominant scale (5th
mode of the A Harmonic Minor scale). After composing the main rhythm
guitar part, I played around over the changes and came up with this
simple melody in Example 1.
Click To Enlarge
MP3 - Example 1
Although happy with the melody, I knew I would have to come up with a number of variations to this theme to keep the interest level high. I ended up with Exampe 2.
Click To Enlarge
MP3 - Example 2
Example 2 begins with the same two measure melody as Example 1. Notice though
that the second time through, the main theme changes by moving the
melody higher in measure four. This is the first variation on the
original theme, and while quite simple, gives the listener a little
something different, while also allowing more room to develop the idea a
little more the next time through.
As we continue through Example 2, we see the next variation appears in
measure six. Once again a very simple change takes place. Instead of
just hanging on to the D note for two beats, I now slide down from the
D to a G#, holding each for a beat and in the process really
emphasizing the Phrygian Dominant sound.
The final variation is seen in measure 8. Since this measure is the
final measure before the next section of the song, it needed to lead
smoothly into the next part. This was accomplished by doing a simple
climb up the Phrygian Dominant scale and into the next section of the
Another effective way of preventing the part from becoming stale as the
song advances is by introducing a harmony part as can be seen at measure
5. Adding harmonies can be a very effective way of getting a lot of mileage
out of a melody while still keeping the listener interested.
Later on in the song this theme appears yet again. At this point the
decision has to be made whether or not to just keep the part the same and repeat the theme with the same variations. While that would be the
easiest thing to do, it probably would not be the most effective in
keeping your listener engaged. Also, since the variations on the theme
were rather simple the first time through, I wanted an opportunity to
add some more exciting and challenging variations the second time
through. These can be seen in Example 3.
Click To Enlarge
MP3 - Example 3
Once again things start off with the main theme. Where things really get
interesting is in measure 4. Unlike the first time through, these
sections where the part basically hung on a simple one note melody, I
take advantage of this space to throw in a very fast legato/tapping lick
that will hopefully catch the listener off guard and lead directly back
into the main theme.
After the first variation, things stay basically the same as Example 2,
bringing in the harmony part at measure 5, until the blazing 32nd note
legato/tapped run up the E Phrygian Dominant.
So the next time you come up with an interesting riff, lick or melodic
figure, try to develop four or five variations based off of it. By changing
parts of the rhythm or some of the notes, or by adding harmonies or
throwing in some head turning 'shred' type licks (all while staying true
to the original theme), you can create entire songs that will keep
listeners wanting to hear more.
The song "Nail Biter", which was used for the examples in this column
can be found on my CD "Orbit" available on this fine website.
Additional Columns by Jason Sadites
Additional Songwriting/Composition Columns