This month’s article won’t be a long one, and it will be dedicated to emphasizing which, in my opinion, is the most important aspect within the context of a song or a “normal” musical piece: The Melody; The jewel of the crown, the queen, the point of reference, the context itself, etc. (and I would be able to add many more adjectives to try to define how I see melody within the musical context). Perhaps the last comparison I can make is just to say that if a musical piece or a song is something like a kingdom or much better, “An Empire,” the melody would be the equivalent to “Rome”… that means every road leads to it, everything has to be reported to it and has to be dedicated to it. I think you already know what I mean 😉
Being a bass player myself, I’m conscious that my instrument is mainly a rhythmic based instrument in the first place; I’ve written many articles in here about that specific topic. The rhythm is taking most of our attention while playing, but there’s something even more important than Bass… ohhh how sacrilegious I’m being hahaha! But trust me on this, because “Music” is obviously more important than Bass, and in my opinion Bass has to serve Music and not the opposite.
How I see it, everything we play as bassists has to be related to the melody; let’s see some good examples…
When the melody is actually being played…
– When it comes to dynamics we must lower our volume when the singer or any of the lead instruments is exposing the melody.
– When it comes to esthetics, we have to care about not playing busy while the melody is being exposed, just a few notes, perhaps longer notes… play simple my friends, let the melody shine!
– Also in the esthetics field, play with the proper textures that you may think will help the melody to glow, e.g. palm muting, playing closer to the neck, choosing the proper pickup configuration, etc.
But what happens when the melody was already played and now is time for the solos? Can I just forget about it?
In my opinion the answer must be a gigantic and enormous NOOOOOOOO!
Melody is an entity that should be all the time and every millisecond of the musical piece, acting as the centripetal axis of the song, and the most glorious moment to reflect that concept is on the soloing. But beware, that’ll happen only when it’s time for a really good, musical, and fully mature soloing concept!
Remember the article I wrote some months ago “Think When you Study… Feel When you Play?” well this article is somehow closely related to what I’m saying here.
When we improvise or solo on a song we should be literally “playing” and I want to stress the fact that I’m being absolutely literal here, I mean PLAYING like the kids! We should be singing new melodies and having a great time like kids do as this is not the moment for thinking about the chords that support the song.
Did you see that I said “Chords that are supporting the song?” This is very important, because it’s the main role of the chords. They are not and end in themselves, they are “helping the song,” and more specifically they are helping the melody and any melodic line. So how could anybody relate or base their improvisations on the chords or the harmony? You can immediately notice when a musician starts to do that, because you will start to hear a very identifiable type of solo, which will sound like blocks, pieces, parts of something that are clearly separated from each other, abuse of arpeggios, structured scales, sequences, patterns, etc.; you won’t be able to listen to an idea that’s a whole in itself.
I can literally tell you how I see this…
“When I improvise, I just focus on the original melody of the song, I never think about chords at all. I see the melody as ‘The Real Queen of the Song’ and the point of reference for every note I’ll be playing in my solos.”
When you improvise, you are recreating something, you are relating to a context, and that context is The Melody. While soloing over the melody’s chordal structure, if you are able to abstractly sing the melody in your mind with absolute clearness, thinking about the chordal structure becomes completely unnecessary, and believe me, this is the exact moment for takeoff in your soloing. Try doing it with your voice and you’ll see that in most of the cases it is quite easy, and your consciousness won’t be asking for the chordal structure at all.
And if the song has a special vamp for the solos that has nothing to do with the melody’s chordal structure, well then I suggest you please INVENT A MELODY IN REAL TIME AND RELATE EVERY NOTE OF YOUR SOLO TO IT!
Obviously, translating this concept to an instrument is something harder to achieve, but completely doable. You need to study a lot, play a lot of scales, arpeggios, phrases & chords, organize them, structure them, practice and practice even more. At the end of that cycle, which in average can take from 5 to 20 years, when you are playing and mostly when you are soloing you must be able to purposely “forget” or “take away from your conscious thinking” all you’ve learned.
Remember that I’m not the owner of any truth; I’m just sharing what I’ve learned from my experience. You may agree with it or not, no problem, I love you guys anyway J
Long life to the melody… respect it, serve it, glorify it, help it, love it!
See you on the next!!