Rhythmic Motifs 101
BY DONNA GRANTIS
Donna Grantis is a Toronto-based guitarist,
composer, musical director, and educator.
Her jazz-rock trio, the Donna Grantis Electric
Band, recently released their debut album,
Suites. As a session musician, she has
performed with award-winning artists and
tours internationally. For more information,
check out donnagrantis.com.
your arsenal of tricks. Whether it’s Wes
Montgomery’s epic performance of “No
Blues” (from Smokin’ at the Half Note),
where he stretches out on over twenty choruses of a blues, or Jimi Hendrix’s wailing
guitar solo in the instrumental masterpiece,
“Driving South,” these players are using
rhythmic motifs left, right, and center.
They are taking small rhythms, usually one
or two measures long, and repeating them
with various note choices. This approach is
an awesome way to inspire new ideas and
expand your musical vocabulary.
Let’s jump right in.
CHOPS: Advanced Beginner
• Understand the basics of
working with a metronome.
• Learn a two-step process
for expanding your musical
• Create more cohesive phrases
by repeating rhythmic motifs.
Click here to hear
sound clips of
It amazes me how much incredible music has been and will be created using a pentatonic scale. You can get a ton of mileage
out of just those five notes. Throw in a few
variables like tone, technique, and rhythm
and the musical possibilities are infinite.
Let’s focus on rhythm.
One of the things I love most about my
favorite improvisers is their ability to develop musical ideas. I’m drawn to a solo when
a player weaves through idea after idea,
rather than playing a slew of random licks.
Play fast, slow, high, low, legato, staccato
… as long as you stick with one concept
for a little while, you can give the listener’s
ear something to latch on to and create an
exciting solo with depth and direction.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re always
playing the same thing, or you don’t know
what to play next, one of the best remedies
for getting out of this improvisational rut
is to incorporate rhythmic motifs into
Step #1: Be able to effortlessly
execute strong rhythms using
In order to play any rhythm in a musical
way, on the fly, it’s essential to have the
technical facility to rock through a number
of exercises with the click. Remember, the
metronome never lies. Using one correctly
is a sure-fire way of tracking your improvement, efficiently increasing your speed, and
knowing that you can deliver a guitar part
with precision. Listen to it more than to
yourself to ensure you’re playing in time.
Here are a few examples of how I like to
“woodshed” a scale. Let’s use an A minor
pentatonic scale (A–C–D–E–G) as an
example. Set your metronome to 80 bpm
and work on playing the scale in quarter-
notes, eighth-notes, triplets, and 16th-
notes. In Fig. 1 you can see an example
of this. If the tempo is challenging, find a
tempo that feels super comfortable to you.
Keep practicing the exercise until you can
play it perfectly, and then increase the click
very gradually until you get to 80. If I’m
struggling with a tempo, I like to use this
approach, then surpass the desired tempo
by a good five to 10 clicks so that when I
go back to the original, it feels like a breeze.
oeoeoeoeoeoeoeoe oeoeoe Ó
3 oeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoe oe OE Ó
oeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoeoe oeoeoeoeoeoeoe Ó