06 – Theme and Variation

How to Write for Theme & Variation

Last time we talked about a trick called the splitting line technique where we could make a countermelody more interesting by breaking it up between two different melodic lines.

This time I am going to discuss what theme and variation are and how this is used. Theme and variation lets you take a single melody or a part of that and use it as the basis for similar musical ideas.

This allows you to work with a single melody throughout your piece, but make it more interesting on a consistent basis than you would with simple repetition.

There are many kinds of variations you can use but today we will only use the first two, called sequence and inversion.

Lets start off with Sequence. This is where the original theme is replayed starting on a different pitch. There are two kind of sequences, an exact sequence and an inexact sequence.

An exact sequence uses the exact intervals of the original motif (even if it’s chromatic) as shown below:

Two Bar Original Theme
Two Bar Exact Sequence

So as you can see in the second example I transposed the original theme a minor second down. That means I used the exact intervals of the original theme while starting on a different pitch.

Based on the two examples above we now can make an eight bar song:

Theme & Variation Exact Sequence
Theme & Variation Exact Sequence

 
Theme & Variation Exact Sequence with Chords

The original theme appears in the first two bars while the exact sequence follows in the next two. Note that I went down with the exact sequence, I also could have gone up to D instead of B
In bars 5 and 6, this is my own choice, I repeat the original theme and in the last two I use a new second motif.
Lets look what an inexact sequence does. An inexact sequence uses diatonic intervals within the connected key of the original motif as shown below:
Two Bar Original Theme
Two Bar Inexact Sequence
In the inexact sequence example above diatonic intervals are used instead of exact intervals. Diatonic means that the transposed notes are still within in the same key, in this case C major (so no sharps or flats).

Again based on the two examples above we now can make an eight bar song with an inexact sequence incorporated:
Image
Theme & Variation Inexact Sequence

Start experimenting with a two bar melody, original theme, and then incorporating an exact sequence and/or and inexact sequence. Remember that you can go up or down from the original theme, that depends on you.

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