Variation Ideas

From Young Composers
Jump to: navigation, search
Hands.png This is an open article.
If you have something you wish to add to any of the sections, please do!


  1. Inversion: Take the melody line and flip it upside down, keeping all of the intervallic relationships the same—for example, instead of going up a major 3rd, go down a major 3rd. See what kind of new line this gives the piece.
  2. Retrograde: Take the melody and play it backwards.
  3. Retrograde-Inversion: Do both steps above: invert all of the intervals and then play it backwards.
  4. Call and response: Layer the melody (either direct echoes or start on another pitch) and create an interesting texture and interchange. It is possible to create a sense of argument between instances.
  5. Toward climaxes, fragment the melody line and build it towards the climax. This works best with something well defined and understood by the listener. You can even begin to begin to branch out into other keys (using chromaticism) and then land on the home key at the climatic point. This helps create frenzy and the sense of motion up to the climatic release.
  6. Cut it up: Take bits and pieces of the melody and create a new one.
  7. Change the rhythm: Try dotted eights and sixteenth or similar patterns. Also try changing to triplets or vice versa. Have the melody line pause or pick up at an unexpected spot or spots.
  8. Only use fundamental notes: Try a variation where you omit all notes but the fundamental roots of the melody.
  9. Add passing tones: Try adding extra notes between the fundamental notes of the melody, either diatonic or chromatic.
  10. Change the focus: Try using one of your countermelodies as the focus point.
  11. Modulate: Shift the melody into another key halfway through it's statement or introduce it suddenly or gradually in a new tonality. Do not forget that modes such as dorian and lydian are acceptable possibilities.


  1. Sometimes just changing the background chords alone can breathe new life into your piece. Try selecting new chords.
  2. Closely related to step 1 is changing the mode (major vs. minor).
  3. Moving into harmonies that move faster or slower while the melody stays the same is often a good way to add variation to a piece.


  1. If you always have the melody on top and the harmony below, try flipping them. Play the melody in the lower range while having the harmony up high.
  2. Embed the melody within the harmony (beware, this requires careful attention to make sure the balance is still appropriate).
  3. Have the instruments you've used change roles. For example, one is primarily the melody carrier, then changes to a background or side role while another instrument takes over.
  4. You don't have to have everything in the piece going from measure 1; you can slowly build it up. You can take everything out except for one section in the middle and slowly build everything back into the sound. You can try different combinations of parts throughout the piece. This is how much of the trance music is designed, and it is effective when done well.


  1. Set things up for a while, and then change the rhythm or the melody and/or the harmony.
  2. Change meter, for example go from 4/4 to 3/4.