A motif is the smallest possible group of notes encapsulating an idea or theme. A motif is a molecule of music, reoccurring throughout the song in different variations. It may have melodic (melody), harmonic (harmonies), and/or rhythmic aspects to the music phrase. A motif can be played on a piano, sung by a singer or played with other instruments. A composer will use a motif to build a larger piece of music by duplicating, modifying and combining it with other musical ideas. It can be a leading phrase that is repeated and varied throughout the song. An example of a motif is Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, the four note phrase da, da, da, dum – repeated – da, da, da, dum.

Some of the motif variations that composers use include:

1. Transposition: Play the motif higher or lower in pitch

2. Inversion: Play the motive flipped—a move down becomes a move up, and vice versa

3. Retrograde: Play the motif backwards

4. Contour Transformations: Play or sing the same basic shape, but make the intervals (distance between notes) larger or smaller.

5. Diminution: Play the motif faster

6. Augmentation: Play the motif slower

7. Melodic transformation: Keep the rhythm of the motif while changing the melody.

8. Rhythmic transformation: Keep the melody of the motif while changing the rhythm

Examples of songs that use motif:

“Satin Doll” by Duke Ellington

Theme from The Simpsons by Danny Elfman

“I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin

Listen to Sheila Corpuz playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony!


What's the difference between an oboe and a bassoon? You can hit a baseball further with a bassoon.

31 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All