I asked in a separate question whether Theme and Variations would be the best fitting form for my "Dance of Nature" movement. I decided that the multi-movement work this is part of would be a symphony, a symphony about nature. When I think of nature in musical terms, I think of a melody that has multiple layers in harmony, sort of the bridge between a homophonic texture(Melody and Bass) and counterpoint(Multiple independent melodies). This is the question that I am mentioning:

Dance of Nature Finale - Would Theme and Variations fit the best?

In that question, I mentioned that I am starting with a bass line and then adding melodic and instrumental complexity. That means that the first variation is where the basic melody is brought in. This basic melody is played by the violas while the cellos and basses play the bass line.

The bass line in one way or another, always exists in the piece. It is what unifies all the variations. Now, I have written down the first 10 bars of both the bass line and the melody(For a symphonic movement, I should probably have somewhere around 30 bars per variation(ABA') + however many are needed for a convincing coda, so this first 10 bars would probably be an A section). Here are the first 10 bars of the first variation as a piano reduction:

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After looking at the melody I'm like:

Why did I write down so many non-chord tones? Eighth notes at that? sigh This is a good melody, don't get me wrong. It is a good melody and it harmonically fits the bass line which is what I wanted in my basic melody entrance. But most of the notes are eighth notes. And most of those eighth notes are non-chord tones. sigh I'm going to have to simplify this melody down, aren't I?

I mean seriously, look at it. So many eighth notes. This looks more like a second or third variation to me than a basic melody entrance. It is hard for me to write a basic melody that is good for a Theme and Variations, because when I write the melody, I subconsciously put quite a few eighth notes in it(often to the point that eighth notes are the predominant note value). In piano music, this doesn't matter much as long as the tempo isn't too fast. In orchestral music though, this matters much more because it is hard to get fast articulations on some instruments. Tempo also plays a role. If the tempo is slow, you probably will want more eighth notes in your basic melody. If the tempo is fast, as it is for my "Dance of Nature" movement, you probably want more longer notes(quarter note and longer).

So I'm wondering, is this melody too elaborate for the basic melody entrance that is the first variation in my "Dance of Nature" movement? Or is it fine and I shouldn't worry myself over all the non-chord tones in the melody, despite the fast tempo and the piece(including all preceding movements) being for an orchestra?

  • 2
    It looks like your measures are in A major. Is there a reason why you're not using a 3-sharp key signature?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 10:45
  • Why don't you just write half a dozen variations and you will see it is not too elaborated and the nonchord tones are no problem. Like Dekkadeci I wonder why you don't notate A major (I think you better transpose the accompaniment an octave - the thirds in the E G# chords are quite low.) Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 14:57

2 Answers 2


Your melody isn't too elaborate to be the theme in a theme and variations. Take the theme of Paganini's Caprice No. 24, for example. Paganini Caprice No. 24 Theme (OK, I took this picture from Wikipedia, but my point still stands.)

This is the theme for an infamous theme and variations you've probably already heard before. It's fast, it's filled with 16th notes, it's got loads of variations in the original caprice itself, composers like Liszt have tried replicating that set of variations in other instruments, and other composers have created yet more variations on this theme. Rachmaninoff even got an orchestra involved in his variations on this theme (his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini). And this theme's got nonchord tones galore. (They're mainly passing tones.)

As long as you can write variations on it, your theme is not too complicated to be a theme for a theme and variations.

(Also, for complex enough themes, considering simplifying their melodies in at least one variation.)

  • 1
    The idea of simplifying the tune for at least one variation is a good one. Rakhmaninov did exactly that in his Paganini Variations. Beethoven did something similar in the finale of his Eroica symphony, writing a few variations on the bass-line before introducing the tune.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 12:59
  • So, as long as I can vary the melody, no matter if that is through dynamics, rhythmic intensification, instruments, or any other measure by which a melody can be varied, it isn't too complicated for a theme and variations, no matter how fast the notes get or the proportion of non-chord tones to chord tones. That's good to know. And since I am writing this Dance of Nature as part of a larger symphony, that gives me more potential mileage in terms of variations than solo piano would, because I can vary the instrumentation in multiple ways(by major group, by individual instrument, soloist, etc.)
    – Caters
    Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 6:47

The melody's fine. And don't worry about the orchestral players, they're pretty nimble. This piece is standard repertoire - they'll manage your quavers!

They'd probably appreciate a key signature though. And I don't really see a bass line of any interest, just the simple root notes of primary chords. Nothing wrong with that - but perhaps a I, IV, V chord sequence is a bit generic to be much use as a 'theme'? (Or perhaps not. Let's see how the variations progress?)

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