5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines

In this lesson I am going to demonstrate 5 ways that you can use motifs when making II V I lines that can help you make stronger and more musical melodies when you are improvising.

Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and now what?

Once you have mastered playing over standards and II V I progressions etc and you can do so over the whole neck and know your arpeggios and scales, you quickly start to realize that you also need to develop skills to make better melodies while soloing. It is not enough just stringing random ideas together over the chords, the solo has to become a coherent whole.

One way to work on this is to start working on making lines with motifs. Motifs is one of the strongest way to tie together a piece of music. Listen to Beethovens 5th symphony for a huge piece of music that actually is almost a study in developing and repeating short motifs.

The idea is fairly simple: You want to connect the different melodies you improvise, and you can do so by making a melodic statement (a motif) and then the next thing you play is somehow derived from whatever statement you played.

This lesson consists of 5 examples that demonstrates different ways that you develop and make variations of a motif.

5 approaches to develop motifs

In the following part of the lesson I am going to analyze 5 examples each demonstrating a way to develop a motif within the context of a II Valt I line.

All the examples in this lesson are a II Valt I in Bb major, I am not really going into detail with that since I assume you already know what that is.

1. Moving around building blocks

The first example is a statement or motif which is the entire Cm7 line. One way to break that into some blocks that we can move is to look at it as an ascending arpeggio with a leading note and a descending (pentatonic) scale run. This is moved to the F7alt by picking an arpeggio that is close to where the Cm7 ends and the descending scale run is diatonic not pentatonic to let it smoothly resolve to the 5th(F) of Bb major.

What this shows is that you can try to categorize the different blocks that make up a motif and then try to move them to similar blocks on the next chord, by not moving this rigidly you have much more freedom to make a natural sounding line and you don’t end up sounding like an exercise in transposing a motif from one chord to the next.

5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines - ex 1

2. Voice leading or transposing motifs

The 2nd example is demonstrating how to transpose or voice lead a motif exactly. The motif is again the entire Cm7 line and the development is the line on the F7alt. What you should notice here is that when you try to alter the line on the Cm7 to fit over a F7alt you’ll get this. I see a strong Cm7 arpeggio as the back drop of the Cm7 line and the development turns into a B7 type line which is natural since B7 is the tritone subtitue of F and in that way related to F7alt.

5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines - ex 2

3. Changing the ending of a motif

Uuntil now we have really changed the motif but only tried to move it to the next chord in two different ways. In example 3 the motif is not only moved but also change, really containg a new melodic development.

In this case the motif is the first half of both the Cm7 and the same motif is repeated in a transposed version on the F7alt also in the first half. The 2nd half of the Cm7 is then replaced with something else on the F7alt that makes it easily resolve to Bbmaj7

5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines - ex 3

4. Rhythmic development

Another way to develop a motif is to change the rhythm of it, there are of course numerous ways of doing this, but for this two bar phrase I chose to use an odd note grouping of 5 eight notes. This motif will work well because being 5 notes it will shift by itself if you start repeating it over the progression. What happens is that I play the original 5 notes twice before I alter the motif to fit the F7alt chord and from there resolve it to the 7th(A) of Bbmaj7

5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines - ex 4

5. Melodic Counterpoint

Often when you listen to a chord progression you can have an idea of how it is moving up or down in pitch. Most cadence like progressions will tend to move down in my experience. One way to create interesting melodies is to be aware of this “direction” of  the chords and then try to move in the opposite direction with a motif.

In the final example the cadence is moving down (you can hear it by checking in the video) and therefore I made a line moving up with a motif. The motif is developing in two ways: It is a 3 note motif so it shifts over the 4/4 meter and then it is also a pentatonic scale fragment that is moved up the neck in a the way I described in the 1st example. The last repetition of the motif is then altered to resolve to the 5ht(F) of Bbmaj7.

5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines - ex 5

I hope you can use some of these ideas and strategies to work on your own melodic skills and that it can help you create more coherent and melodic solos. If there is a part of this lesson you want me to cover in more depth then send me a message on my Facebook page or twitter1

If you want to study the examples away from the video or article you can download a pdf here:

5 ways to use motifs in your II V I lines

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