Composition Elements (On Harmonica)

By Alex Paclin

Written by Alex Paclin on . Posted in Blog: Harmonica Articles

This is a video dedicated to composition, let’s break down some of it’s main parts.


Motif is a short phrase that consists of a few notes and is important in composition.

By repeating the motif, we make it more memorable, but we also can move notes around throughout the piece. Think of tree branches, they repeat, but not always in the same way. They all are similar, but they grow in different spots, some are thicker, some are thinner, shorter and longer, some may be identical to each other. We can apply the same principle to a motif, for example change the order of notes, change their duration, range or place where a motif starts.

We can bring laminarity or turbulence in the motif. Referring to nature, laminarity is the lower part of the smoke which is plain, and turbulence is the upper part which is wavy. Laminarity is repeating the motif and turbulence is bringing surprise and change. You can change intervals in the motif, move the whole motif to a different notes keeping the steps, remove one note, stretch it, repeat the part of the motif and so on.

Also the gradual change of pitch is more laminar then abrupt change, which is turbulent.

Tension and release

There’s also tension and release.

Tension can be created by:

  1. Dissonance in harmony & rhythm.
  2. Repetition, the more we hear the same motif over and over the more tense it gets.
  3. And high pitch.

Referring to tension as a work of muscles we have to keep in mind that there are fast and low twitch muscles. For example muscles that we use to walk are low twitch muscles – can be used for a long time without tiring. Fast twitch muscles help with sudden bursts of energy involved in activities like sprinting and jumping. Strong harmonic dissonance is fast twitch — noticeable and tiring if used too much. Mild dissonance is low twitch — can be used more often without tiring.

Here’s sheet music for the music piece used in the video (text refers to underlined notes):

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