JAZZ GUITAR HARDBALL
Forward Steps in Melodic Soloing: Part 1
You will sometimes hear one player say of
another, “Her solos are really melodic.”
We intuitively value improvising in a
melodic fashion. I want to talk in the next
two columns about how this concept is
evolving in jazz education.
If you have ever asked yourself any of the following questions, you may find this topic very
interesting: What should I play in my solo?
How do I keep coming up with new ideas?
How long can I stay with one idea? How do
I develop it? When is it time to move to a
completely new idea? What makes a solo
compelling for a listener? How do I make my
solo interesting through the whole thing?
book that I think represents a new trend
and a new focus in jazz improvisation, and
gives new direction to teachers. The focus
is on melodic improvisation and the actual
ways one can develop this ability, as well
as on improvising meaningful melodies—as
opposed to simply outlining the harmony
with scales and arpeggios.
isn’t that our goal, to communicate something meaningful in the music that can move
people through listening?
When you want to
about your life (in
this case, learning to
play more meaningful
melodic solos), put
your energy in that
Kane focuses on the 12-bar blues form to practice these techniques (with a CD play-a-long).
And while the text is aimed primarily at players
who are early in their career, I found the ideas
so coherent and meaningful that I believe even
experienced players who want to refocus on
the craft of creating melodies—would also find
this to be a highly valuable resource. Kane’s
approach can help players from many skill levels craft more meaningful solos.
Keep these questions in mind, and let’s
begin by looking at a little history of jazz
education, and then we’ll look at how the
focus is shifting with a larger spotlight on
Formal college-level jazz education has been
around a relatively short time, with interest
beginning to take shape in the late seventies.
This interest was often slow in growing, as
many academic programs showed resistance
to both jazz and guitar as serious artistic
pursuits. Conservative academics tended to
look on jazz, and especially jazz guitar, as less
desirable stepchildren that did not deserve to
be even close to the esteemed place of classical music. That old order is rapidly changing,
and jazz and other degree programs in guitar
are finding acceptance as legitimate courses
of study in the arts. The teaching methods
and emphases within these programs are
rapidly evolving as well. The early days of jazz
education taught a rather pedantic approach
to playing the music: “Outline the changes.”
“Play this scale over that chord.” “Use this
technique to play outside.” “Practice scales.”
This intellectual approach to a form of music
that was meant to be emotionally evocative is
thankfully starting to run out of gas.
Brian Kane’s text, Constructing Melodic Jazz
Improvisation, is a breakthrough in this area,
getting young players focused on melodic
intent rather than playing scales and licks.
Kane discusses all the aspects of improvisation that can help move a player’s solos to
a new level of meaning: how to develop a
solo from start to finish; to be intentional
about phrase length; to have melodic intent
in a solo; use of techniques that can develop
an idea; expanding one’s melodic memory
so that previous ideas can be replayed; use
of repetition and development of motifs;
effective use of rest space; use of inflections
to help develop a personal style; and many
more innovative, intuition-building ideas.
Emphasizing these techniques results in a
totally different feeling in the solo—one that
focuses on a communicative style. After all,
When you want to change something about
your life (in this case, learning to play more
meaningful melodic solos), put your energy
in that direction. While you’re waiting for
Kane’s book to arrive, conduct a web search
for discussions as to what other players
are doing to advance this skill. Use search
words like melodic development, melodic
improvisation, etc. Listen with intent to classic jazz recordings with regard to development of melodies—specifically, where the
masters repeat ideas, develop them, make
sequences out of them, invert them, and
when they move on to a new idea. You can
chart an entire solo to study the ways it
developed—pay attention to how the contour of the solo unfolds and creates greater
excitement by the end. Talk to other players
you know about how they advance this skill.
Focus more on memorizing melodies rather
than playing scales (some advanced players believe scales should not be practiced
at all). Above all, maintain persistence in
advancing your melodic craft—it will pay off.
Exciting stuff! Come back next time for
more in-depth work on melodic improvising and a review of a second text that
tackles this topic.
In the recent past, books with scale studies
and rote patterns have been almost infinite
in number. This represents the prior focus on
the analytical approach to the music, which
tends to be mechanical in playing the right
notes against whatever chord. In contrast
to that approach, I found a recently written
A clinician and jazz educator, Jim Bastian is a ten year
veteran of teaching guitar in higher education. Jim holds
two masters degrees and has published six jazz studies
texts, including the best-selling How to Play Chordal
Bebop Lines for Guitar (Jamey Aebersold Jazz). He actively
performs on both guitar and bass on the East Coast.