How to Spice Up Your Melody Playing

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How to Spice Up Your Melody Playing

In this lesson, I show you how to play a melody all by yourself and how to make it interesting.  One thing I love to do is to add chords to a melody.   I’ll start with a very simple explanation demonstrated with La Foule, by Edith Piaf, and then I’ll show you a few things over Autumn Leaves.

La Foule: It has a very simple intro and recurring motif which can be pretty boring  played in the basic “single note” way .  So I will show you how to add a few chord tones below the melody note (which is then the highest note of the chord) to make it a bit more interesting. You can also add a few connecting melody notes, like the chromatic run that’s in the song, either as individual notes or as octaves.  Then, just for fun, you can play it faster and faster – people always love it when I do that with Swing de Gitanes in concerts!  I also show you a cute ending (down, down-up, down-up, down) on the final chord.

Autumn Leaves: The melody, as written in the books, is really simple. How long can I play these four simple phrases with long breaks in between before it gets boring?  If someone asks me to play this song when I’m alone, I might be at a loss.  I can play it, but there’s nothing to it. So  I have some ways to overcome that.  First of all, as before, I add a chord below the melody note. But I don’t let it go at that.  I still feel it lacks something because of the long silences.  The song itself contains some chords between the notes of the melody, so I add them too, perhaps with a little melodic movement. You can use F#o instead of B7.  You can also add notes in between based on the knowledge and skills you already have (triads, arpeggios, scales, simple chords).  Whatever your skills are, you can use them to embellish the melody, by filling in some of the blank spaces.

If you sit with the melody and take some time to use the skills you already have to find an interesting way to play it, adding chord shapes that you already know and some relevant notes in between, you can embellish the melody and play it in an engaging way.  Of course, I don’t mean that you should neglect spending time expanding your knowledge and skills (for instance, learning more chords, scales and arpeggios and improving your technique), but that mustn’t stop you from feeling free to make beautiful music now, with what you already know and can already do.  Even a few notes are enough; you just need to have the confidence to use them.  Even if you only have one or two notes at your fingertips, try to find a way to add things to give some movement and connection in between the notes of the melody, so you can enjoy sitting by yourself and just playing the melody.

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