When we, as bassists, create bass lines, we use many different forms and frames of reference. Some forms are fundamental structures like the triad. Some forms are intentionally less structured, or at least more free.
In between structure and flexibility is one of the finest musical elements, one that has been effectively applied by great bassists and great composers alike: the motif.
We don’t talk about it all that much amongst the bass tribe. Yet it appears so often in the greatest of bass lines. Granted, it is a concept designated to help us understand how art works. While the concept may have its limitations, its application to art and to music is without bounds.
In any style of music, in fact in any form of art, the motif, once understood, can yield tremendous bounties.
A motif is a short, recognizable musical phrase which can be explored in a number of variations. This allows us to take a “small” musical idea and explore it. In exploring it, we can come to understand it and we can come closer to fully expressing that little musical idea.
It’s what symphonies are made of. It’s what many great bass lines are made of. It’s in the toolkit of every great composer, songwriter, and improviser. And if we, as bassists, add it to our toolkit — we can use it to help us create great bass lines in any setting or song.
To add the motif to your toolkit:
- Learn to recognize a motif when you hear or see it.
- Learn ways to create variations on a motif.
- Experiment with motifs on the bass.
Here is a video on the motif to get you started. Enjoy!
The Motif: An Introduction
You can access the full course here:
This link contains a coupon code, though there are two more free videos here as well.