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  1. #1

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    About a week ago, I finally discovered this year 2020 the root problem of why I am a very bad melodist and why I always fail in the realm of improvisation, jamming, and melody writing in general. I will keep it concise, but year after year for many years, my source of embarrassment, frustration, anger, and failure with music all revolved around - Melody. There is a good reason why I don’t have a girlfriend, why I don’t have a career, why I don’t have an income, why I was studying music in school all these years, why I’m still living with my parents, why I am not an established figure in this world. It’s because I am bankrupt in all things pertaining to melody. My problem with melody occurred not because I have lack of theory knowledge, lack of hard work, lack of ear training, lack of patterns, lack of hitting chord tones or some kind of a lack in my life, it occurred because of lack of information on how to bolster my own melodicity - oops I just invented a word! You see all these years - NOBODY - taught me how to melody - oops I just invented a sentence! Melody was something that I had to discover on my own. Long story short, I discovered in an article and a couple of videos of the same guitar educator (Scotty West) that the greatest guitar soloists and melodists (people that can write strong melodies every 15 minutes or so) hear melodies in their head while they’re jamming or composing and they are able to successfully transfer the melodies from their head into their instrument. - Now the problem is that while I jam and do melody writing activities - I don’t hear melodies inside my head at all!- I just discovered my problem.

    Now the next step to solve my problem is to find a way to help me have an endless stream of melodies inside my head while I improvise. While Scotty West was jamming on the video, he showed me how to do it - Singing Pitches. According to Scotty West - Singing is the most effective way of unlocking the various pitch relationships in your mind. Not only that - around 2017 - I purchased a book called How to Improvise by Hal Crook. There is a chapter in the book that shows a diagram of various scale patterns manipulated from the Major Scale, but this works for other scales too. I saw the common direction of the patterns and before I knew it, I started seeing scale patterns beyond the book and I saved them on a spreadsheet in Google Drive. A combination of those two and voila! I established a new practice routine. While I was doing the exercises and patterns, there were times where I ended up singing out of tune or off-pitch. This just shows how I am so disconnected and so distant to the various pitch relationships in music. - This exercise is reminding me of how bad I am at Melody. But the difference now compared to previous years is that I have now an antidote to cure this malady or melody.

    In conclusion, to become a really great guitar soloist, in the end it’s all about ear training. The ear training that I am referring to is not opening a software or app, guessing intervals. I am also not referring to transcribing. The ear training that I am referring to is internalizing the various pitch relationships and functional tones into your mind through singing pitches or singing what you play. I like to end with an excerpt from Steve Vai’s ear training article:

    “Without the ability to bring those imagined sounds to the real world, one’s creative aspirations will remain crippled.” - Steve Vai


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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Herb Ellis always stressed this. Sing what you play, or play what you sing. (Whichever way you want to put it.) He said all the great players he knew (that he liked) did this, and lots of other muscians did too. Oscar Peterson can be heard doing it on some of his records.
    Herb said horn players he knew did it to but you couldn't tell because they had a horn in their mouths.

    I'm weak in this area too.
    I've noticed that whenever I learn some old tunes---just things I like to sing and am able to sing---that my improv tends to become more melodic.

    Curiously, my mom (piano) has an incredible ear. She could always play whatever she wanter. Or at least since the fourth grade when she watched an older girl play a school piano and thought, "I can do that." She doesn't know anything about music theory and can't read music, but she knows the sound of all the keys on a piano. She doesn't have to think about it, she just plays songs she likes.

    Ironically, she's never written a song and doesn't improvise. She hears unerringly but she does not create. I've long questioned why that is and do not yet have an answer.

  4. #3

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    Somebody once (may have) said:
    "If you can sing it, you can play it; if you can't sing it, you probably shouldn't play it."

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Karol
    Somebody once (may have) said:
    "If you can sing it, you can play it; if you can't sing it, you probably should play it."
    Actually it is quite fair... thee is an 'instrumental approach' too... jazz originally is based on vocal intonation (as probably any music) but eventually as in any professional instrumental music) the qualities of instruments begin to take over...

    I think there was backward process in jazz too when instrumentalists began to influence vocalists...

    'vocalism' is very humant -- that is important... it is possible 'to sing' even one plays very instrumenttal style too (there were conductors who could sing with the symphonic orchestra)

  6. #5

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    Fair enough, but I edited/corrected my post after you responded:
    "If you can sing it, you can play it; if you can't sing it, you probably shouldn't play it."

  7. #6

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    I think Jonah makes a very good point about how, at some point, 'the qualities of instruments begin to take over.'

    And we are prone to forget that the electronic microphone is also an instrument.

    The influence of the microphone on popular singing is immense.

    It is jarring to many of us to hear how many popular performers sang in the '20s---those booming voices and lack of subtlely. That was necessary without microphones when one sang in churches or theaters or saloons without microphones. You had to be heard 'all the way in back' and that DISallowed much nuance. (It may be compared to the over-broad gestures that work in theater---where they have to be seen by everyone in the audience---to the subtle changes of facial expression that a film camera captures.)

    Sinatra was the sea change here. He wasn't the first singer to use a mic, but he changed singing from 'hey, everybody, look at me!' to 'baby, it's just you and me alone in this cozy room'. It's a different sort of singing. Much more intimate and nuanced. Before, the singer sang alone to a large crowd; with Sinatra the emphasis was on the illusion that the singer was talking to you alone.

    Compare Ethel Merman doing "I Got Rhythm" (circa 1930) with Sinatra singing "I've Got You Under My Skin" from the late '50s. The Porter tune was also a show tune, just not sung here in the 'show tune' way of an earlier era. (No dig at Merman is intended here. She was a helluva singer but that's not HOW popular singers do it anymore.)

    Btw, the trombone solo on "Under My Skin" is played by Milt Bernhart. He was short. The recording engineer wanted him nearer the mic for his solo. Sinatra found him a box to stand on. "From small things, mommna, big things one day come."





    Point being: the advent of the microphone, an electronic device, had a profound effect on how singers sang.
    What we mean by 'voice-like' ain't what it used to be!

    Finally, a live version of Sinatra doing "One For My Baby." Here, the song is sung to a single person (the bartender). ("There's no one in the place except you and me.") But this is being sung live before a sizeable audience. Yet in a very intimate, quiet way. Microphones, baby.


  8. #7

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    Sing things. Sing other people’s things until you hear your own.

  9. #8

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    The singer Duffy tends to nail every micro nuance.

    To OP. When singing as a "tool" to boost some aspect of the playing, you better try to sing very well and focus on the voice harmonizing with the instrument.
    I've seen advice like "doesn't matter how well you sing..." quite a few times. It matters so freaking much.
    It might sound like crap for a while but in time gets better like any other skill.

    If not minding getting better and better at singing, all it does is bring you half the way of what it could give to your playing.

    ----\
    I've used singing for practice in many ways, and the mentality changed strangely late.
    Just warning about this a trap

  10. #9

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    This is very insightful. I believe that the act of vocalizing while you improvise “connects” your imagined lines to your instrument. My only problem, especially when I record, is that my vocalizing sounds terrible... like a pig being poked with a hot iron. Gotta fix that some way...

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rsilver
    This is very insightful. I believe that the act of vocalizing while you improvise “connects” your imagined lines to your instrument. My only problem, especially when I record, is that my vocalizing sounds terrible... like a pig being poked with a hot iron. Gotta fix that some way...
    You can hear Oscar Peterson doing it on some of his records. (George Benson does it as part of his act---he's unusally good at it.) Usually guitarists (unless they sing) are not mic'ed, so we don't hear them do it.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rsilver
    This is very insightful. I believe that the act of vocalizing while you improvise “connects” your imagined lines to your instrument. My only problem, especially when I record, is that my vocalizing sounds terrible... like a pig being poked with a hot iron. Gotta fix that some way...
    Like that?


    but this is beautiful

  13. #12

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    i had a similar revelation a while back (I still cant blaze solos mind, but i've definitely come on in leaps and bounds since then, just another 20 years should do it... ) I think the thing with singing is you cant lie to yourself that something is too easy, or beneath you in someone way, or that you are too advanced for it. If you cant loudly sing a 9th over a dominant chord, then you cant hear a 9th properly yet.

    after this realisation i wondered why every music lesson didnt start with someone screaming "what are you hearing in your head?' before they got any further. I guess its because generally the people teaching dont realise how absent that part of someone else's brain can be because its more natural to them

    At christmas this year, we got given quizoo. (if you dont know what is , you pull a card from a deck with a melody on it. Then on a kazoo you have to play the tune and the other players have to guess the tune) If you heard my mother in laws attempt at 'we will rock you' you would be completely baffled. And thats what i can imagine is the easiest song to sing. anyway, after playing guitar for 15 years, I figure that my ears are not quite as bad as my mother in laws, but probably a good deal closer to hers than wes'

  14. #13

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    One of the things Lennie Tristano and his followers would have students do is sing solos by Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker etc. That way you'd get the essence of the feel without having to worry about the notes. You can get the feel of their solos long before you have the technical facility to play them. I spent many hours singing to their solos.

  15. #14

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    If you don't feel comfortable singing (ie, like me) you can try scatting out what you want to play. I know it sounds cliche but I think there's a reason why someone like Benson does it a lot. I do it without using a microphone. I'm no GB! When I'm doodling I find myself doing it without even being aware of it. Then when I come up with something cool, I don't remember what I was scatting!

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by basinstreet
    At christmas this year, we got given quizoo. (if you dont know what is , you pull a card from a deck with a melody on it. Then on a kazoo you have to play the tune and the other players have to guess the tune).
    Neat! I had not heard of this game. I think I'd like it.

  17. #16

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    I'm hearing melodic lines and chords in my mind's ear,
    then singing them with both hands through the guitar.

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by pauln
    I'm hearing melodic lines and chords in my mind's ear,
    then singing them with both hands through the guitar.
    Sounds scary, man!
    You mind has an ear and your both hands sing!

  19. #18

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    I never hear folks mention Rosenwinkel much on this topic, but all those years he used a lapel mic to blend his voice with his guitar lines seem to be lost in the void. He is a very musical cat.


  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkRhodes
    Neat! I had not heard of this game. I think I'd like it.
    its a good family game, could do with a bigger pack though. Also afterwards, the mrs made the mistake of cleaning the kazoos afterwards by soaking them in hot water, which broke all four in one sweep!

  21. #20

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    IMO, anything said about how to create a good melody is a loose rule.
    Even this ^^^

    But..
    What helped me the most was not clinging to something that only "fits" or was "good enough".
    And this, as OP wanted, needs a stream of possibilities rushing through the mind. But most of those are junk anyway (another loose rule here - unless you're somehow inspired or something)... and there it goes interesting.

    If not having an easy inspirational jackpot...
    To create a good musical thing, you need to get into a loop. A mode of .. "belief" or "faith". That means you know that a good thing is possible to figure out. No need to get deeply frustrated..
    The frustration is actually a helper. If the current thing doesn't work, change it somehow or ditch it. Need to experience how much to spend time on pondering on those after nothing comes from it.
    Again, frustration tells you that this current thing aint gonna work! That's a good thing! Because when you come up with something worth keeping, then you'll know it so well!

    In short, keep the mind-loop going, create your stream of bad ideas, check them out fast, ditch or change if feeling some frustration or pick it up if feeling good about it... and most important - keep the faith up that there is a good solution. The last part is critical.

    BTW. it's completely OK to get only sucky stuff for hours. It's so much like fishing.
    -----
    That's how it works for me.

  22. #21

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    I got into thinking. Because free time.

    Just comparing the improvisation to sports... hear me out!

    Say, you play football. You're a striker. To score more goals, of course, you should train shooting at the goal. But focusing 100% of the training time on shooting at the target is a guaranteed failure as a player.

    Improvisation is a complex skill. I don't mean complicated or too hard. Just that it's a mixture of all kinds of skills. A few essentials, a few bonus, a few that you could get by without..