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Thread: Learning jazz from the melody first

  1. #1
    Did I say that out loud ? joeyd929's Avatar
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    Learning jazz from the melody first

    It seems that the early jazz players, 20's through 40's seemed to focus on learning the melody inside and out before going off on a tangent of riffs and improvizational flurrys of notes.

    So I was thinking, if one learns a melody to a jazz standard and analyzes it more from an audible standpoint as in what might work for improv, can simply use the melody as sort of a musical trail or linear movement that guides them through the arrangement.

    Certain melody notes may offer themselves as good candidates to use as a springboard for a riff or run simply based on the players ear and ability to emulate the melodic and rhymical aspects of what we call "Jazz". Other melody notes can act as a runway or trampoline to land after a flurry of notes or any sort of unplanned run.

    During a period of improv, if one runs out of ideas or simply has completed an improvized run, can get back on track by simply learning to jump back in with a melody note, where ever they happen to land.

    Theory being that the melody note will always fit, even if you can't think fast enough as to what key, chord, scale, mode, or whavever. Just get back to the trail of melody notes.

    Like John Mclaughlin said in an old late 1970's interview with Guitar Player mag, after studying indian (hindu) music... He said that there is a linear movement that will pass through the most complex of chord arrangements... In jazz, the melody can be observed as this so called "linear movement".

    I think the more ways one can learn to play the melody (different fingerings and positions) then you can always find your way back to where you need to be.

    Additional steps can be taken, analylze the melody from your own point of view and maybe it would be possible to analyze the melody to see where it offers altered notes by default, thus provoking the mind to think of something to improvize.

    I am not saying jazz should not be studied beyond this point but it may open a door as far as the simplicity that these jazz players seem to execute their craft with. As complex as it is, I think that once a player has that epiphany as to how jazz "works" they get to that next plateau.

    Moral of the story: You can always resolve your improv by jumping back to the melody. Any1?

    AT the rate I am going I should reach this plateau by the year 2025 (laffs)

    Joe
    Last edited by joeyd929; 10-27-2008 at 02:21 PM. Reason: spelling

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    I totally agree - and I'm always surprised at improvisation strategies that DON'T start from the melody!

    I can't understand why people get into chords and scales before looking at the melody. Whenever you play a jazz tune, you start by playing the melody. Yes? If you don't, why not? (No tab? can't read notation? then learn to read, or learn the melody by ear from a recording.)

    Let's face it, the melody IS the song. The chords are only there to support it. Most of the time (in most songs), the melody is all you need to know to be able to improvise well on a tune. It will usually suggest the chords that are likely to go with it.
    In jazz, it's true that the way a tune is harmonised can often suggest different avenues for improv. But of course, a melody can be reharmonised many ways. The chords aren't fixed - the melody is (or should be).

    I believe that nobody should attempt to solo on a jazz tune until they can play the melody by heart. (I admit that I don't always meet this ideal myself. And the fact that I play bass most of the time doesn't excuse me...)

  3. #3
    Did I say that out loud ? joeyd929's Avatar
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    Bass

    I almost forgot, as I posted in another thread, learning the bass line can really help grasp the "where and when" of a jazz arrangement, or any arrangement for that matter.

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    100% agreed, Joey. To me, the improv flows from elaborations on the melody of the song. Might go pretty far from it at some points, but that's the core of it, imo. Like JonR said, the melody IS the song.

    For me, notes + rhythm and context (bass notes, chords, whatever) = melody. Even using the rhythm as inspiration for the improv helps me a lot.

    The fact that my jazz improv is still pretty bad diminishes none of that...

    Grep.
    "Whaddya mean DYNAMICS?! I'm playing as loud as I can!"

  5. #5
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    I speak better jazz than I play ...... and yes jazz standards. Now if you want to embellish the melody help yourself. I look upon it the same way you would take off on a chord run between chord changes -- a little flurry and then back to the established chord progression.

    I see melody embellishments this same way -- you never loose the established tune you just embellish it with short improvisations and then get back to the task at hand -- providing a melody people can recognize.

    Full fledged instrumental solo... Accept the lead by playing the established melody, embellish all you want, but, give the lead back playing the established melody. That lets your band mates know you are ready to give the lead back and the audiance is brought back to the standard's tune. Now the vocalist can easily continue with the next verse. The really good ones will time their solo to have the same measures as a verse (say 12) or a verse & chorus (say 24), i.e. they would not just quit any ole time they though was approporate, up to playing the established tune to a complete chorus before handing the lead back.

    Like I said, I talk it better than I play it.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 10-28-2008 at 02:00 PM.

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    Actually from what I've learned, ballet is more intense in certain areas than jazz. (I take jazz, but I've only taken it at one studio, so maybe this is not completely the case with all jazz classes.) So, you really don't need to have prior ballet experience at all, in my opinion. Depending on what level of jazz it is it might help if you had some previous JAZZ experience. I started jazz at a young age, have never taken ballet a day in my life, and it's really fun as a dance style all its own! Mostly I think the difference from ballet is that jazz is mostly about attitude, and it isn't always a triple-turn, point shoe dance style or anything. Jazz is still its own style of dance, and doesn't depend on other types (such as ballet). It is such a fun dance to take, so I think that if you want to take a class in the summer, go for it!!!!! ^-^ Hope this helps!

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cristycole
    Actually from what I've learned, ballet is more intense in certain areas than jazz. (I take jazz, but I've only taken it at one studio, so maybe this is not completely the case with all jazz classes.) So, you really don't need to have prior ballet experience at all, in my opinion. Depending on what level of jazz it is it might help if you had some previous JAZZ experience. I started jazz at a young age, have never taken ballet a day in my life, and it's really fun as a dance style all its own! Mostly I think the difference from ballet is that jazz is mostly about attitude, and it isn't always a triple-turn, point shoe dance style or anything. Jazz is still its own style of dance, and doesn't depend on other types (such as ballet). It is such a fun dance to take, so I think that if you want to take a class in the summer, go for it!!!!! ^-^ Hope this helps!
    Sheesh - I never even though of "jazz" as a dance form!
    We're talking about the music here, of course, but looking at dance styles associated with music genres is certainly an interesting avenue. Your comment about "attitude" is central, IMO - in the music as much as the dance.

  8. #8
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    A method for improvising based on the melody

    I have recently bought Ed Byrne's books on linear improvisation (www.byrnejazz.com). This book gives a method for much of what has been described above (IMHO). I can not claim to know his books yet, but I have started studying. Ed Byrne posted a "teaser" of his books in the forum of allaboutjazz. In my opinion, so far, this is a good set of books that should be in every guitarists collection. I hope Ed Byrne don't mind that I repost one of his posting from the www.allaboutjazz.com forums:

    LINEAR JAZZ IMPROVISATION—LEARNING A SONG

    1. Reduce and Internalize Reduced Melody.

    2. Derive and Internalize Guide-Tone Lines.

    3. Internalize and Compress Root Progression.

    4. Apply Chromatic Targeting to each of the above. (Linear Jazz Improvisation has 10 Chromatic Groups)

    5. Identify and Simplify Basic Melodic Rhythms of the Piece.

    6. Develop and Permutate Rhythms.

    7. Combine Chromatic Targeting with Rhythmic Development.



    CHAPTER 1



    MELODY REDUCTION AND COMPRESSION


    Melody Reduction is achieved by shrinking melodies to their fundamental pitches and rhythms by eliminating pick-ups, non-harmonic tones, and repeated notes, and simplifying the rhythms of these melodies by placing all notes squarely on the beat in order to secure a firm grasp of the essential compositional material upon which to create further development in improvisation. Indeed, these rhythmically simplified reduced melodies will become much like the traditional cantus firmi of medieval Western art music.

    Although we apply the procedure somewhat differently, the idea of reducing a composition under analysis was inspired by the work of Austrian theorist Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935), who developed techniques of composing-out non-essential elements to better understand the works of the great Viennese composers of the nineteenth century. In our application of this procedure, reduced melodies will become the foundation of everything that we will play and/or sing in both practice and performance, regardless of which of the various musical roles we are performing at any given time. Reduced melodies and guide tone lines have the additional quality of making very good backgrounds behind soloists.



    LINE COMPRESSION


    Line Compression makes one cognizant of the fundamental contours and melodic goals of the composition’s essential elements (reduced melody, guide tone lines, root progression), thereby making easier the task of internalizing, which will be the foundation upon which improvisations are constructed. We do not, however, use the compressed melody for targeting. Playing and singing the reduced melody at an increased rhythmic rate (compressed) helps one understand the underlining structure, to perceive the antecedent and consequent phrases, the repetitions, transpositions, and the overall climatic curve and form of the melody. Since each level of line compression offers a different understanding of the song, we will learn the reduced melody with its rhythm compressed in different degrees.

    Compressed melody technique is essential to the LJI method, since this process is the key to internalizing compositions through gaining an understanding of the three essential elements of tonal music. While they are all lines, however, each role has distinctive intervallic characteristics:

    1. The melody is usually in the soprano range; it is largely conjunct, but is mixed with other intervals.

    2. The guide-tone lines are in the tenor voice, and they mostly descend chromatically.

    3. The root progression is in the bass. It is comprised of the larger intervals P4 and P5 mixed with others.

    Sing them repeatedly--especially the root progression, which moves at a slower pace. All three move in different parts of the phrase as well, and the bass moves less often. Once you get used to the differences in melody types and internalize each line as a melody, paraphrase each as you would any melody.



    CHAPTER 2


    CHROMATIC TARGETING


    Chromatic Targeting involves the systematic application of chromatic modifier groups to enhance and develop the reduced melody with specific vocabulary as a starting point. Targeting will be introduced in steps, first by approaching each melody note from a semitone below; then from a semitone above; from a semitone below and above; from a semitone above and below, and so on. All of these chromatic embellishments should be practiced separately—along the entire length of the instrument’s range, and then on specific reduced melodies. Chromatic targeting should first be practiced on the Four Triad Types and Twelve Seventh-Chord Types, using chord tones as targets :



    FOUR TRIAD TYPES


    Major (capital letter), e. g., C
    Minor (m)
    Augmented (+)
    Diminished (o)


    TWELVE BASIC JAZZ SEVENTH CHORDS



    MA7
    MA7-5
    m7
    mMA7
    m7-5
    7
    7sus4
    7-5
    +7
    +MA7
    o7
    oMA7



    GUIDE-TONE LINES


    Since ours is a melodic rather than a harmonic approach to jazz improvisation, the most important harmonic information needed can be found in a composition’s two guide-tone lines, which are found by ferreting out the thirds and sevenths of the chords in a progression. Guide tones containing pitches that are chromatic to the key are the most significant. After identifying these notes, we will create lines by mixing the thirds and sevenths, and then applying chromatic targeting to them.
    Last edited by gersdal; 11-04-2008 at 08:09 AM. Reason: Improving the text... hopefully to the better

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    Sheesh - I never even though of "jazz" as a dance form!
    We're talking about the music here, of course, but looking at dance styles associated with music genres is certainly an interesting avenue. Your comment about "attitude" is central, IMO - in the music as much as the dance.
    Gosh! everybody could dance to all up-tempo and slow tunes, and that did include all jazz versions of the popular songs-ballads that were in the 'hit-parade' All good musicians were able to play'on the fly'
    nearly all popular songs in 4/4 timing WERE dance tunes originally Then, they became Jazz favorite.................NOT the other way round!!
    leegordo

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by leegordo
    Gosh! everybody could dance to all up-tempo and slow tunes, and that did include all jazz versions of the popular songs-ballads that were in the 'hit-parade' All good musicians were able to play'on the fly'
    nearly all popular songs in 4/4 timing WERE dance tunes originally Then, they became Jazz favorite.................NOT the other way round!!
    leegordo
    I know that very well. Jazz was dance music. Popular song-and-dance tunes (and musical show tunes) later became jazz standards.
    You seem to have misunderstood my reply to cristycole.
    cristycole (I thought) was talking about "jazz dance", as compared to "ballet" dance, or say "latin" dance. Not the jazz music. IOW, a style of dancing to jazz (or to anything I guess), not a way of playing jazz music itself.
    I don't know much about jazz dance (or any kind of dance come to that!), but I imagine it's the kind of stuff they did in West Side Story.

  11. #11
    ClashlandHands ClashlandHands's Avatar
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    I couldn't agree with you all more. Most young players, (I like to think I'm still one!) do not play melodically enough, imho. And, I chalk this up to the fact that they don't know the melody well. I've even heard of people complaining that the melody "gets in the way" of their improv because it's too restrictive. Some players, they can get way outside, yet you still know exactly where they are in the form, or could quickly get back on track because you hear the melody even if they are not playing all chord tones. One technique I've used to gain flexibility with this, maybe you all do this too, is the checkerboard technique. So, after you've reduced the melody, alternate bars of improv and melody tones, then on the second chorus invert the whole thing. Then keep making different selections, every three bars, 2-on 2-off, until you can always hear melody and come in or leave with melody wherever you like. That's control.

  12. #12
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    Linear Jazz Improv kills

    Man, I have been through a load of stuff, you can't imagine. I have a post-graduation degree in Improvisation, but the approach that felt most direct for me is LJI.

    Been working with Linear Jazz Improvisation books for one year and a half. I did the song book series, all the targeting exercises Books 2 and 3 and now I'm working on book 4, bichordal triad pitch collection etudes and taking online classes with the doc himself.

    I was completly into scales before I met dr. Byrne in AAJ forum. I emailed him and he was most kind to give me attention. Not like some authors, that are completly out of this world, and would never answer.

    I learned to reduce the melody and do an Finale song-book on a tune. Ain't difficult though. LJI is about practicing, not much reading, writing or studying theory. There is this tune my band plays, a composition from the bassist, that felt impossible for all of us to improvise upon. It's a fast samba that has got one chord per beat on the head (non diatonic chords). I had to improvise over it and it sucked. I spent many hours figuring out a way to do the job, using scales, arpeggios, a melody in my mind and the works. Never did a meaningful improv on this song. Then I wrote a book on it and practiced a couple of times.

    What happened was that I gradually weaned myself off the old approach: CST (chord-scale theory). When I realized, scales were not in my mind anymore. I had the melody, it's rhythm, the guide-tone lines and bass line. The band noticed the change, because I was establishing a dialog with the composition, taking meaningful solos. As to CST, today, I go like... What kind of approach is that?? You feel like you are struggling with the song, man...

    I'm not complimenting myself, don't get it wrong. I'm just talking about my little experience with LJI and Ed Byrne, saying that they helped me with my own craft.

  13. #13
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ljistudent View Post
    Man, I have been through a load of stuff, you can't imagine. I have a post-graduation degree in Improvisation, but the approach that felt most direct for me is LJI.

    Been working with Linear Jazz Improvisation books for one year and a half. I did the song book series, all the targeting exercises Books 2 and 3 and now I'm working on book 4, bichordal triad pitch collection etudes and taking online classes with the doc himself.

    I was completly into scales before I met dr. Byrne in AAJ forum. I emailed him and he was most kind to give me attention. Not like some authors, that are completly out of this world, and would never answer.

    I learned to reduce the melody and do an Finale song-book on a tune. Ain't difficult though. LJI is about practicing, not much reading, writing or studying theory. There is this tune my band plays, a composition from the bassist, that felt impossible for all of us to improvise upon. It's a fast samba that has got one chord per beat on the head (non diatonic chords). I had to improvise over it and it sucked. I spent many hours figuring out a way to do the job, using scales, arpeggios, a melody in my mind and the works. Never did a meaningful improv on this song. Then I wrote a book on it and practiced a couple of times.

    What happened was that I gradually weaned myself off the old approach: CST (chord-scale theory). When I realized, scales were not in my mind anymore. I had the melody, it's rhythm, the guide-tone lines and bass line. The band noticed the change, because I was establishing a dialog with the composition, taking meaningful solos. As to CST, today, I go like... What kind of approach is that?? You feel like you are struggling with the song, man...

    I'm not complimenting myself, don't get it wrong. I'm just talking about my little experience with LJI and Ed Byrne, saying that they helped me with my own craft.
    I agree, Ed Byrne is great. CST is dead - long live LJI!

    What he calls LJI was always (in crude form) the way I played intuitively, without any jazz education. That was because I always learned the melodies of songs as well as their chord sequences, because I saw myself as a songwriter as well as a guitarist, and just loved tunes. And I improvised the way I heard my heroes improvise, which was always linear. (I mean, chord tones and occasional arpeggios to be sure, but only as the basis for melodic lines.)

    When I started taking jazz lessons and heard about CST, I was intrigued, manly because it seemed like a coherent intellectual approach. (And Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book, very much CST-based, was impressively authoritative in its sources. All his quotes made it seem as if this really was the way the great jazz musicians thought.)
    But I could never play that way, I just noodled along the way I always did. I started to see the Jamey Aebersold approach (pure CST) as "not seeing the wood for the trees". It was too mechanical, too much tunnel vision.
    (Levine's quotes can be seen as selective, taken to prove his points. Yes, so-and-so played a phrase using this scale over this chord - but so what? How important to his thinking was that?)

    Reading Ed Byrne on AAJ was refreshing and illuminating. He was essentially saying my instinct was right.

    Of course - like you - I can't say I'm a great improviser, but I know I'm starting from the right place: having an overview of the tune, a holistic approach as it were. The chords are not something to bury yourself in, one by one, tunneling grimly through the changes; they're something to surf on, to bounce off, to skim across the surface of.
    Understanding chords is crucial, but it's the way they link in sequence that matters, not what you can play on each one in isolation.

  14. #14
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    Thumbs up

    Howdy! I'm fresh here. It's a great pleasure to read your outstanding posts.
    That Byrne stuff is good. I like his approach. The best are the Finale files. It's the ultimate way to practice.

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