Improv Tip Week #20-Using the Melody p3 - Jason Klobnak Music

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!

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About the Author jasonklobnak

Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground.  The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).