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Jazz Piano Lessons: Playing Motivically

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Let's discuss a really important
aspect of building a jazz solo, and
that's playing motivically.
And basically, a motif is any little idea,
a combination of notes.
Those five notes, let's say,
let's make a little thing out of that.
What we want to do is
we're gonna play it first.
That's our motif.
Playing motivically means
that we're gonna take that,
and we're gonna explore different
ways to expand on that,
one of which, logically,
follows from the previous one.
And there are a few
different ways to do it.
At its most simple, we would take
the same notes, [SOUND] that sequence.
And let's keep the notes but vary
the rhythm, and I'll show you what I mean.
[SOUND] Let's actually use
a sequence from one of our,
maybe from a bop scale.
[SOUND] We'll try that.
We're gonna keep those same notes,
one, two, three,
four, five, which is the bop scale
coming down from E flat, and
then let's work this out on just
our F dominant modal track.
What I'm gonna do here is try to
think of as many different ways as I
can of keeping that same [SOUND] thing
going, but changing up the rhythm.
And we'll just see what happens.
I'm gonna try to develop
it as a logical thing, and
then we're gonna start adding in
a couple other ways to modify these.
But you'll find that listening
to yourself in this way and
that one idea follows out of the previous
idea, makes a really coherent solo.
It's not just left up to chance.
When we transcribe the Wynton Kelly
solo on Freddie the Freeloader,
that's a masterpiece of motivic
development, the Miles one also.
So, let's just have some fun with
this on our F seven modal track.
[SOUND] A one, two, three, four.
a real
I actually added, maybe an F or
something in there, but
that's really confining ourselves
only to those same notes and
to the simplest possible
sequence of notes.
It would have been easier, probably,
to do something [SOUND] three, four,
something that's a little bit
more interesting combination of notes.
The next option that we can vary,
rather than varying the rhythm,
let's keep the rhythm that we start
with [SOUND] and change the notes.
And at first,
I'm gonna keep a similar idea.
I'm gonna try to do it like that and
I'm gonna keep the same [SOUND] shape,
just coming down a scale.
But then we're gonna start
playing [SOUND] with notes in
different shapes but the same rhythm, so.
[SOUND] I think I'm gonna go one,
two, [SOUND] like that.
And that's the rhythm that we'll keep.
we have
kind of
the same
It's not that inspired yet,
because when we start to combine these,
that's when it gets really nice.
Another quick experiment,
keep the same rhythm more or less but
displace it, put it in a different
place on the next bar.
One, two, [SOUND] two, three,
four, one, two, three.
Like that.
If you put it off by one beat, especially,
it kinda creates
a completely different idea.
So I'm gonna quickly demonstrate that
on our blues at 140, our F blues.
[SOUND] One, two, three, four.
If you practice
like this, [SOUND] and
again, there's a whole
universe of shapes and
phrases that you can
work with that are a lot
more interesting than
our scale fragment,
but I'm trying to strip
this down to the bare
bones essence of it.
Let's start combining these,
and at this point,
I think you know what we're trying to
do here, we're trying to build a story.
And so one thought needs to flow
logically out of the one before.
I saw an interesting expression of
the dynamic of soloing a few months ago.
Somebody pointed out that you most
have the audience's attention
at two points in your solo,
when you start and when you stop.
And that happens on a microlevel as well.
Leaving some space and then,
when you come in, again,
people, it's like the neurons
fire better or something.
And when you stop, there's a little
thing in the listener that says.
And if you're playing like this, if one
idea is really flowing logically from
the one before, you create kind of a sense
of anticipation in them or something.
They become part of the game of,
what's he gonna do next?
Most musicians, if you watch them
listening in a club,
when somebody plays something
that's really great and
so beautifully executed,
what they do,
it's not like this, they laugh.
And one thing that really makes me
laugh Is hearing somebody do this,
we'll take something and
turn it inside out and
surprise me every time with
the variations they're coming up with.
There's a brilliant saxophone player
named Lee Konitz who made
a real science of this.
He could take an idea and just turn
it inside out for an entire chorus.
He played often with a pianist
named Lennie Tristano,
who also was a real scientist with this
kind of developing of even a simple theme.
Part of what we get when we do this
[SOUND] motivic playing is a nice,
spacious quality to our soul, and we have
a wide-open space between the lines.
And, if your first couple
choruses are like this,
it provides a really nice contrast
to when we get to start playing
more linearly and
more of a lined based flowing thing.
But the real test of
ingenuity in a Jazz musician,
to a large degree,
is how well you can do this.
Sonny Rollins was brilliant at this.
One really great attribute of
practicing in this way is that
we're all trying to find our own
sound as we develop as musicians.
And one, really consistent thing
is that the way in which you vary,
the variations you hear on
the ideas that you play,
that is really your imagination at work,
it's unique to you.
If I play
like that.
The next thing I hear is,
But the next person is
never gonna hear that.
They're gonna hear something
that's unique to them.
So as we experiment with this and
as we become more adept at this,
it's a great way to find your own sound.
Cuz your choices with this are unique to
you.One thing that's a really effective
device when we're practicing is to
take a lick from a favorite musician
and use that as your first starting point.
And vary that up and that way you're kind
of absorbing their imagination into your
DNA, their lick into your DNA,
and yet you're simultaneously
expanding it into your
own unique vocabulary.
There's a Freddie Hubbard lick that
I play a hundred times a night I bet.
Real simple little thing.
We don't need to learn the lick,
but if I start with that as my motif.
Let's do it in B flat.
kind of
So now, what we're gonna do is,
I'm just gonna play more of
a stream of conscious thing.
I'm gonna vary things up.
It might not strictly be varying
the rhythm or varying the notes.
But you should be able to hear
a real coherent story develop here.
And often, what happens,
somehow writers of the popular
song got into this AABA thing.
There's an A section, we hear it again,
there's a bridge, different information,
and then we hear the A section
usually with a little tweak to it.
And I find that as I'm
doing this motivic playing,
that is a natural tendency for me.
And, again,
I think it might come from the blues,
because there you had
a statement of the theme.
Then you hear the statement
of the theme again
just to make sure that you're
understanding why we have the blues.
And then there's like a little
punch line for the last four bars.
So there's something just innate
about the desire to do that.
Let's see what happens here.
I'm just gonna blow very spaciously and
develop some motifs.
The things that are occurring to me,
the ways in which I'm varying it again,
no two people are going
to do that the same way.
Great way to practice, I find that
when I do this, I'm reaching for
weird, I played some stuff
that I never played before.
Something like that.
And then I find that,
as I contemplate what's
the variation gonna be.
I'm making shapes that are a stretch for
my imagination.
I'm out of my comfort zone trying
to get those to happen and
sound good, and
that's a very expansionary way of playing.
And when you're on the gig, like I say,
if you wanna crack a musician up and
you rarely see jazz musicians
listening to each other in a state
of just stunned silence.
When something great goes by, they laugh.
And this kind of melodic ingenuity,
is something that consistently makes me
laugh when I here a great musician play.