Monday, March 12, 2012

Using Melody In A Solo Part 2

The advantages of using the melody in a solo
In my previous post on this idea, I discussed two of the advantages of using the melody of a tune as the basis for improvisation.  The first advantage of this approach was how it unifies the sound of the song and makes everything more cohesive, and the second advantage was how it gives you an idea to work with and respond to instead of trying to create the whole solo from nothing.  In today's post I want to discuss a third potential advantage to this kind of soloing, using the example of "Chief Crazy Horse" by Wayne Shorter above.

Pepe is the man!
Inviting people into your solo
The third potential advantage of using the melody in a solo is how it can help invite other musicians to participate in your solo.  In the example above you can hear how my bandmate, the fantastic Pepe Gonsalvez, comes back in with the bass line of the song at around :48.  This in turn sets up a cool dialogue between the two of us which gives my solo a more varied and interesting character.  Not only that, when I quote the bass line at the end of my solo, it gives the band a way to transition seamlessly back in to the head out.

Of course, you never know exactly what is going to happen when you are improvising.  But if you strive to keep the character of the melody alvie in your solos, you will help to contribute to the conditions necessary for continuous interaction with your fellow musicians.  In essence by playing this way, you give your bandmates something that they can recognize, which invites them to participate in your solo musically.

If you want people to communicate with you, you have to try to speak the same language!
I have often heard other drummers complaining that everyone always cuts out during their drum solos,  and never seem to know when to come back in.  Although I think this is often a fair complaint, instead of just seeing this as an insurmountable obstacle, try using musical vocabulary like the melody that you know your bandmates will recognize to invite them to participate.  Once you invite them into your solo by speaking a language they recognize, they will be confident enough to participate, or at the very least come back in the right spot!  As it is, often times the reason that nobody will play during a drummers solo is that it seems like what the drummer is playing  is not fundamentally related to the song.  

Try using this approach for yourself, you will be surprised by what can happen! 

The original melody


  1. Wonderful solo, Andrew, gives me lots to think about. Playing jazz and big band now, I know I'll be asked to do a solo at some point soon and it scares me. I've never liked solos. Your material regarding solos gives me hope and eases my nerves. I like your talks about playing melody lines, and I now look for that in recorded solos I listen to from the greats of the 60's. I like the fact that you leave space in your solos, whereas I feel obligated to fill the time with fireworks and "dazzle the crowd", something I'm clearly not comfortable doing, ever. Keep the good stuff coming!
    Andrew C. Hare from Seattle

    1. Thanks Andrew!

      To tell you the truth, I didn't like solos either until I started thinking of them this way. The more you can forget about trying to impress people, and instead focus on hearing the melody and responding to what you are hearing in a smart way, the less pressure you will feel. If you develop this enough, your playing can start to feel more like listening, which is a wonderfully liberating and creative perspective to improvise from. I am so glad that the blog has been helpful to you, thank you for taking the time to give me feedback!