Theme/Variation

Listening to this casually professorial interview with guitarist Johnny Marr (from BBC’s Imagine: The Story of the Guitar) got me thinking about how underrated the idea of “theme and variation” is. Not only in music, but elsewhere.

Take the three “punk” chords, which, after hearing the alternative, are actually kind of boring. “Going inside the chord” like Marr does makes for more compelling music. (While that phrase will never roll off the tongue as nicely/banally as “thinking outside the box,” it’s a musical version of the metaphor.)

Combining this kind of knowledge of technique with a personal history of how it’s been done gives you authenticity. In this case, Marr knows the list of “songs that have a tremolo guitar that sounds like x.” He owns a knowledge of the history, so he can make powerful variations.

What do these ideas have to say about other kinds of technique? Say, in business?

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