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Just Play A Melody
If you checked out some of my previous lessons you already know how I feel regarding the use of
melody in our bass playing. Both your rhythm section playing (bass lines) and solos will be stronger if
you know the melody.
This time I'd like to talk about the most common of American musical forms, the blues. Picture
yourself at a local open mic night. You're on stage with a group of total strangers. Inevitable
will call a blues simply because it creates the best chance that this group of strangers can find
common ground. The singer calls for a shuffle in G and off you go. Your walking lines are tasteful
your feel is exceptional. The drummer and you have an instant lock. You're in musical paradise. Then
it hits you, the band lays out, the drummer keeps time on hi-hat only, the spotlight and the audience's
attention is on you....oh boy, bass solo. This is open mic night, you don't know the melody that was
sung. At this
moment you don't even remember the singer's name. What to do?
This is the moment that you
so glad you learned the melodies to a variety of twelve bar blues, Billy's Bounce, Straight No
Bessie's Blues. And because you learned them in a variety of keys you're ready to launch into one of
these melodies. The band nods and smiles, the drummer yells "Oh yeah" from behind the kit. When your done the
crowds applauds enthusiastically as you return to that pristine walking line. Isn't it
great being a bassist?
The concept of quoting other melodies in a tune is nothing new. If I had a nickel for every time I
heard someone quote The Flintstones Theme during I Got Rhythm changes, well maybe I could buy a
cheap beer, but you get the point.
My personal favorite melody to quote in a blues is "Blue
Monk" Written by legendary jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, this composition is an ingenious
Built on two basic phrases, it reminds us that you don't have to play many notes to say a great deal.
is also a reminder that it's Ok to leave space.
The original composition is in the key of
Bb. The example below is that same melody (with some rhythmic variation) transposed to the key of
1. To introduce the concept of tranposition. In this case all the notes are moved down a minor 3rd (3 half steps or 3 frets).
2. It places the melody in a "guitar key" (a key that most guitarist are comfortable in and is liable to
get called on gigs)
3. It makes use of an open D string. You people who play fretless know how open strings help
intonation by providing an accurate reference.