Can we take a melodic idea and reshape it by filtering it through various colors and structures? The term artistic filters is one that emerged a few years ago while helping a learner expand their existing musical resources. They already had the essential groups of American pitches under their fingers; the blues, pentatonic and the major / relative minor scales in a couple of keys and were basically looking for new ways to expand on what they already had. In regards to the sounds they wanted to create, these scale colors were enough, what was needed were different ways to "mine their existing resource" so to speak.
My first idea was to "go right to the source of what you dig on records." For especially in the blues, along with orally passing on the ideas, this is how it has always happened. That was cool, that's what they had been doing. So then we started to jam and look for ideas. One idea I played stopped them, prompting "what just happened in your line?" "Oh that, I just played this idea and moved it up a half step." Really? Yep, simple as that. Well, that was a new one for them. The discussion which followed examined the idea of taking a melodic idea and moving it up by half step, maybe doing it a couple of times, or moving down by half step, basically moving one idea through the "chromatic filter."
The concept of artistic filters can also be applied to the musical idea of motivic development. Years ago I heard the quip that writing and composing music is oftentimes "10% inspiration and 90% perspiration." Sound about right? Perhaps part of what this quip implies is that the 10 % inspiration "inspires" a nice melodic or harmonic idea, perhaps even a phrase of words. Developing this idea into a larger, complete work becomes the 90 % perspiration. As improvisers, how can we develop the idea we just played, create more fluid and exciting solos and become better storytellers with our improvised music? These are some potentially important questions for the emerging artist, the answers to which may partially lie within the concept of artistic filters.
Artistic filters, or just the term "to filter", is a term I like to use to describe one way in which a player would develop an idea. For example, we could use the major triad for our musical idea and run this structure through an ascending chromatic filter. Example 1.
Simply taking the same three note structure and moving in half steps. I think what happens over the years of playing is that we develop our own favorite ways of filtering ideas, which help to define our style and become part of our artistic signature. And as we develop over the years, oftentimes these favorite filters will also evolve as our abilities, concepts and techniques advance, many times gradually becoming more and more theoretically and artistically complex. Cool with this? The following ideas run one melodic idea through various filters.
Filtering one idea upward diatonically through the pitches of the major scale. Example 2.
Recognize the motif?
Filtering the idea diatonically through the pitches of the natural minor scale. Example 3.
Using the rhythmic idea of our motif to create a 12 bar minor blues tune. I.e., running an idea through the "blues filter." Example 3.
Extracting the first part of our motif and pushing it through a chromatic filter. Example 4.
Same idea upward through a whole tone filter. Example 5.
Same idea through the whole step / half step diminished filter. Example 6.
See how the idea eventually cycles back onto itself? The pitches tend to loop back upon themselves when a consistent intervalic filtering device is used.
Same idea through a diatonic filter of fourths with a bit of octave transposition. Example 7.
In thinking diatonically, we use only the pitches of the C major scale right? Cool. Here is a similar idea using the cycle of perfect fourths. By following the exact intervals of our idea in creating our permutations, we gradually move outside the diatonic realm of things and then cycling back to our original starting point. Example 7a.
Cool with how the pitches will loop upon themselves? Potentially an important concept for the emerging theorist.
Is this concept of filtering simply another way to create variations from a theme? Can we use this filtering idea with clusters of pitches? Can we create stylistic filters and morph folk melodies into jazz lines, blues melodies into rock grooves? Of course, we can do it all. How to do this, perhaps start by singing the line, play the line? And maybe clapping your hands to drive the thing?
Other potential "filtering" concepts within the text?
|advanced permutation / sequence|
|theme / variations|
"Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt."