Under any condition, imagination produces
interesting alternatives. When
composing music, there are times when
creative continuity seems to fade and is
momentarily replaced with emptiness. In
this lesson, we’ll look at a practical way to
jumpstart your creativity and replace emptiness
It’s rewarding to apply musical techniques
to other forms of language. For
example, if we take the English alphabet
and display it alongside a scalar series, the
two separate systems become a device that
can translate the language of words into
one of melodies. Fig. 1
and Fig. 2
two examples that will serve as the starting
point for our exploration. In Fig. 1,
we combine the alphabet (shown in the
left column) with a C major scale (which
repeats down the right column). Similarly, Fig. 2 pairs the alphabet with A natural
minor (or A Aeolian).
We can then use these templates to create melodic motifs based around selected
words. Fig. 3
illustrates the process using “beautiful” and “ugly” to produce a tonal
structure. It’s simple: First, spell out each word, then find the note in the right column
that corresponds to each letter and enter that below it.
Once you’ve established the structure, you can introduce rhythm to create a basis
for your composition. Any scalar module—or number of them—can be attached to
this system. You can transpose the motifs to create even more variations.
I had a student interested in John Coltrane’s legendary composition, “Giant Steps.”
In addition to studying the song itself (including linear substitutions through its chord
structures), we used this words-into-melody technique to create motifs. We chose the
words “Coltrane,” “Tenor,” and “Blue” and then transformed them into melodies using
the Aeolian mode. You can see how we applied this to “Coltrane” and “Tenor” in Fig. 4
Notice how in both Fig. 3 and Fig. 4, we resolve the phrase using notes that were
generated from the respective words. In Fig. 4, we create additional melodic variety by
transposing E and G down an octave.
I used this example as the basis for the title track to my
2003 album, Think Tank
. Visit the online edition of this
lesson to download a special solo guitar version of “Think
Tank.” Fig. 5
shows how I applied the melodic material I generated
from “Coltrane” and “Tenor” in the piece’s A section.
I encourage you to create your own combinations using this
method. Many times the right mixture of a certain scale or
mode with a few descriptive words can create a spark that will
lead to a new motif, melody, or even entire composition.
Since his first recording as a leader in 1967, Pat
Martino has constantly pushed the limits of jazz
guitar with his flowing technique and powerful,
muscular tone. Showing no signs of slowing
down, Martino still travels the world performing
and giving lectures about his approach to
the guitar. Currently, Martino is working on an
autobiography and serving as adjunct faculty
at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
For more info, visit patmartino.com