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Improv Tip Week #20-Using the Melody p3

Here we are at week #20 already! I truly hope you’ve been enjoying these tips (and those that have checked out the book too) and continue to check back in and share this blog with others. This is the final week of our Using the Melody series, so let’s dive right in. In this week’s tip, we will be discussing how we can use the melody itself (or other melodies) directly in your improvisations. There are three different ways we’re going to look at how we can use the melody in today’s tip:

The first is using contrafacts. Simply put, a contrafact is a new melody put over a familiar harmonic progression. You will find many jazz compositions that are based off of a common or standard progression. Two common progression types that have literally hundreds of songs based off of them are blues and rhythm changes (based off of the progression from “I’ve Got Rhythm”). Other notable contrafacts include “Donna Lee” which is based off of the chord progression from “Back Home Again In Indiana.” So how do we use contrafacts in our improvisations? When the opportunity arises within your improvisation, you can “quote” part of another melody that has the same harmonic progression. This is a valuable tool especially when improvising over blues and rhythm changes because there are so many melodies derived from those progressions. These, when used sparingly and with good judgement, can elicit a positive response from the audience (especially when the “quote” is something familiar). For example: quoting part of the “Flintstones” during a chorus of rhythm changes.

The second way we can use the melody is by quoting an entirely different melody that might fit part of the harmonic progression you’re playing. This is similar to using the contrafact, except we’re only using a small portion of another melody that may not have the same harmonic progression. Some times the other melody will work great if we just change one or two notes and other times the melody will fit perfectly. Quoting is something you hear MANY musicians (even outside of jazz) use in their improvisations. Below is a brief example of using part of a quote from “Well You Needn’t” over the “B” section of the changes to “What Is This Thing Called Love?”

The third way we can use the melody is by using fragments of the original melody. Fragments are short pieces of direct quoting of the original melody within your improvisation. How much of the fragment of the original melody is up to the improvisor. You can use a short theme of the melody (much like what we quoted in the example above on “Well You Needn’t”) and use it to develop it much like what we covered in the motif tips or you can take large segments (for example, the “B” section of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”) and directly quote that section.

As long as you use the melody creatively and don’t overdo it, you can use any one of the three ways discussed above (contrafacts, quoting and fragments) in your improvisations. Use your ear as your guide and make adjustments accordingly. It’s best not to force another melody to fit the changes you’re playing over, but take advantage of the opportunity every now and then when it presents itself. What’s the best way to work on this? Play melodies…A LOT of them! Learn new tunes and take note of how the melody is structured and how you might be able to use it later. Where do we find melodies? Anywhere! Keep your ear open when you’re watching TV/movies, listening to the radio (it doesn’t have to be Jazz, either), or even what nature is playing. Pay attention and you’ll find a wealth of material.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip as well as the series on Using the Melody. If you’ve enjoyed this, please share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or any other site you’re a contributor for. I appreciate all of the comments and feedback from you guys and hope we can continue sharing ideas and dialogue. Also, check out my book (Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose) by going to Jason Klobnak Music. You’ll find more information about the book, specials I’m running as well as reviews from others who’ve purchased (it’s been a while since I’ve updated the reviews and I will get some new ones up there too). Enjoy!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog/post. As a thank you I wanted to give you a FREE MP3 from the JKQ. Simply click the button below and fill out the short form and you’ll have it in just a few short moments!





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