Variations Of A Theme

Do me a favor–watch this, then tell me if you recognize something familiar.


(I’ll give you a hint–it’s around the 2:27 mark.)

Did you hear it?  Just a few notes, but one of the most recognizable themes anywhere.  And a simple variation on it to make it not only stand out, but seemingly belonging in a place where it wasn’t supposed to be.

The theme is one of the major ones from “Rhapsody In Blue”.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to it again.  Or read about it, for that matter.

It’s there.  And in an instant, two classic jazz recordings are tied together in a most innocent way.

This is nothing new in jazz–the improvisation that makes jazz unique has always involved variations of a theme.  Whether the theme is the chord structure, the melody or harmony, or even a completely different theme, the musician finds a way to change it, to take the familiar and make it their own.

The best writers do this too–remember, Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t invent the detective story.  Jane Austen didn’t craft the first romantic novel.  And John Green didn’t begin the YA genre.

Even some of the best works of art are variations of an established theme–the play J.B. by Archibald MacLeish is nothing more than a reworking of the Book of Job from the Bible.  Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco involves a comedic (and suspenseful) spinning of Holy Blood And The Holy Grail.  And Mickey Mouse is nothing more than Oswald The Lucky Rabbit with round ears.  Darkseid begat Thanos, Sherlock Holmes begat Sherlock, and Buck Rogers begat Flash Gordon.

So, when you begin your next work of art, look for a way that you can vary something that’s already in the public consciousness.  Some way you can put something familiar in your work.  A way to make something stand out, but seemingly belong in a place where it wasn’t supposed to be.  Look for inspiration in what you love, then find a different and new way to introduce it.

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