Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Using Melody In A Solo

The melody as the basis for improvisation
In today's post I am going to use my own playing to demonstrate one of the themes of my blog, that is using the melody as the basis for improvising a drum solo.  One of my earliest inspirations for learning to solo using the melody was Roy Haynes' great solo on "In Walked Bud" (if you haven't checked it out already, I have a post about it here).  Some specific examples of how my playing in the video above is melodic are my imitation of the opening phrases of the melody, my use of repetition and space, and finally my adherence to the structure of the form.  If you want to read more about what I mean by melodic drumming, check out the post about Max Roach here.  

Two advantages to melodic soloing
There are a lot of things I love about this approach to soloing, but my favorite part is that it integrates the drum solo into the rest of the song.  From the audiences perspective, this unifying effect can be much more engaging and interesting than a pyrotechnical drum display.  To me, playing this way also makes improvisation flow more naturally, by allowing me to focus on hearing the melody and reacting as opposed to trying to arbitrarily conjure up a solo from scratch. 

Melodies with rhythmic character
Some songs lend themselves to this approach because of their rhythmic character.  Monk and Bird are two of the best composers for drummers because their melodies have such incredibly catchy and sophisticated rhythms.  In today's posts I am playing the great Kenny Barron original "Voyage", another melody that really lends itself well to drummers.  Notice how I use the descending and then ascending opening phrases of the melody throughout my solo.

A big part of what makes a drum solo effective is it's pacing, how it's intensity rises and falls.  In my solo I tried to take advantage of this by tying the pacing to the structure of the song.  Notice how I start off slowly and leave lots of space, only really starting to build up in the last A section of the first chorus.  I then build up through the second chorus before suddenly dropping down at the start of the third chorus.  On the bridge of the third chorus I start a big climactic swell that climaxes at the bridge of the fourth chorus. Starting from such a low spot in the third chorus means that I have lots of space to grow!  From there I bring the solo back down to segue into a brief vamp into the head out.