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  1. #1

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    Weird question time!

    Let's consider your run of the mill song written in the Western tradition in the last 100 years or so. It has a melody that sounds like, well, like a melody.

    Then somebody comes and plays a solo over the chords of that song. And it sounds, well, like a solo.

    It doesn't sound like a different song that happens to share the same chords, it has a different... intent? concept? phrasing? je ne sais quoi?

    Of course there are outliers like those bebop tunes that sound like a solo, or if somebody went and quoted the whole Flintstones theme over a rhythm changes tune. But in general, you know what I mean (I hope). There's the melody. There's the solo. And they sound different. Why?

    I am not an expert on musicology or the history of musical forms, so feel free to enlighten me in any manner you find convenient.

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  3. #2

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    Perhaps because of chord scale theory?

  4. #3

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    One difference is, Tin Pan Alley standards have melodies that were intended to be performed vocally. Solos or bebop heads are instrumental parts. Wide angular skips, fast legato lines are very difficult to sing but very natural for technically developed musicians to perform on the piano, sax, guitar etc.

    Classical music is the same. A piano concerto sounds nothing like the kind of lines composed for opera singers.

  5. #4

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    Melodies tend to be singable by mortals. There are often lyrics -- which further limits density and complexity.

    But, just to do a thought experiment ... what if you limited the soloist to the same number of notes as the composer? Would you still be able to tell the difference?

    I think the answer is "it depends". If the soloist does what many of us do -- eg play an idea (think, melodic cell) multiple times while varying the pitch of the shape, harmonic context and rhythmic placement, then it's not going to sound like a composer's melody. Mostly, composers don't do that.

    If, otoh, the soloist plays a singable line - I don't know how to describe what a melody actually is - then it may be hard to tell which is the melody vs which is the solo, if you don't know the tune.

    And then, to speak out of the other side of my mouth, if you listen to a good solo repeatedly, it starts sounding more like a melody because you learn to expect what's coming next.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Howzabopping
    Weird question time!

    Let's consider your run of the mill song written in the Western tradition in the last 100 years or so. It has a melody that sounds like, well, like a melody.

    Then somebody comes and plays a solo over the chords of that song. And it sounds, well, like a solo.

    It doesn't sound like a different song that happens to share the same chords, it has a different... intent? concept? phrasing? je ne sais quoi?

    Of course there are outliers like those bebop tunes that sound like a solo, or if somebody went and quoted the whole Flintstones theme over a rhythm changes tune. But in general, you know what I mean (I hope). There's the melody. There's the solo. And they sound different. Why?

    I am not an expert on musicology or the history of musical forms, so feel free to enlighten me in any manner you find convenient.
    Its a very good question.

    to me it boils down to the way motives and ideas are developed via repetition and varied repetition.

    Music generally sets up expectations in the listener and the art is often is how those expectations are met, confounded or subverted.

    Melodies for standards are generally have a clear form, while the form in solos is less clear (but sometimes present)

    For instance you can see the way sequencing, for instance, (the use of a melodic phrase moved diatonically through a scale) is used as the primary compositional device in a tune like Blue Bossa or Autumn Leaves very clearly, and in regular phrases of 2 or 4 bars.

    That’s a technique you find throughout Western music. (And composers such as Mozart will set up these expectations and subvert them brilliantly) Sequencing while present in solos is less obviously used on the whole is much harder to spot in improvised solos; in general phrases are less regular and clearly related to each other, and as a result the form is a lot less simple and clear as it is in a song.

    Bop heads are somewhere in between.

    (That is incidentally the main reason why I think many people find jazz difficult to understand. Pop listeners like lots of unvaried repetition by contrast. But all music walks a line between chaos and boredom, and that line is subject to personal taste.)

    Some soloists are more motivic than others. Also there is the school of thought that solos should be heavily ornamented or varied melodies which implies soloing is primarily about ornamenting or even hiding the composition.

  7. #6

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    As an exercise, try improvising on a 2 or 4 bar phrase, varied to fit the changes. It’s really good exercise. Here’s a vid I did:


    Amongst other things this works your musical memory and gets you out of ‘throwing notes on the chords’

  8. #7

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    Melody - each note counts. The effort is there also with not-so-good ones.
    When working on creating one, I just roll it back and forward, check if everything snaps together perfectly. Kinda listen it like in 3d or something. Every part has to "speak" with all other parts.

    Solo is more like 2d.. linear. The form keeps it all together but it seems most soloist go for question/answer. Meaning 2 phrases are closely tied together, but the ties are very much loosened after 3-4 phrases.

    It's a great question btw. Probably the best one ever

  9. #8

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    Well... if solos sounded like melodies they wouldn't be solos and vice versa.

    Melodies are sparser, solos are denser.

    Solos wouldn't stand up as melodies by themselves.

    Melodies are statements, solos are fillers.

    If solos sounded like melodies they wouldn't be solos and vice versa.

    Can't think of anything else

  10. #9

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    Maybe I'm not quite understanding ragman1 [and others above] but solos can be, and do become, a melody. Yes, there's lots of solos that are very complicated musically and stand on their own but if you were to listen to solos by, say, Gerry Mulligan, a lyrical player, there are sections that you could take and use as a melody. No?

  11. #10

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    Ideally a soloist will be "telling a story" and playing melody when they solo. Some players seem to have more of a knack of doing that than others.

  12. #11

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    Paul Desmond's solos sound like melodies to me. In a good way!


  13. #12

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    I think the real reason they are different is that melodies are composed over a period of time, sometimes months or more, sometimes just hours, while solos are composed on the spot, with no time to revise or think clearly about the notes. I believe that I can come up with a better melody, most of the time, if I have unlimited time to do it, than I can if I have to just make everything up as I go along, on the spot. And I believe that anyone else can also. It takes much talent and long practice to be able to play good, nevermind great, improvisations. To be technical, playing solo only means playing alone, not necessarily improvising, perhaps playing a much rehearsed piece alone. But in jazz, a soloist is expected to improvise, and the results can vary widely, even when professional jazz musicians do it.

  14. #13

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    To be honest, very few solos count as melodies, there's no point to it.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDaddyLoveHandles
    Paul Desmond's solos sound like melodies to me. In a good way!

    Great example. In transcribing a Paul Desmond head, it's sometimes hard to know where the head ends and the solo begins. They're the same thing.

  16. #15

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    Miles Davis was good at this. I love his "Doxy" solo.


  17. #16

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    Ignoring all the gray areas, for the purpose of this post, I'd offer the following.

    I think of melody as something singable that comes straight from the heart. It is constructed first (in this view) when a composer creates a song. It is foundational. You can reharmonize a melody, and it's still the same song. You can't change a melody to the same degree without making it into a new song.

    The composer of a melody need not think about chord changes until the melody is finished. Then, the composer chooses among the infinite number of ways it could be harmonized.

    The soloist, otoh, needs to fit in with the composer's changes. That's a restriction the composer didn't have. And, soloists often use a reservoir of learned devices to navigate the changes. This can emerge as "jazz vocabulary" and is part of the art form. Well practiced licks have a place in a jazz solo, but not, typically, in a melody.

    In this forum, there is abundant discussion of devices which can be used to navigate chord changes while soloing. There isn't any discussion of the mechanics of how to create a melody, at least not that I recall. I assume that's because melody comes from the composer's unconcious mind. Or, phrased differently, straight from the heart. Nobody can teach you a set of techniques from which you can derive the melody of Stella, or Shadow of Your Smile.

    Speaking for myself, as a journeyman on a good day, when I compose I don't know where the melodies come from. I'm certainly not thinking about any sort of theory or technique.

    When I solo over changes I can feel (meaning no thought whatsover is required) I get close to making real melody. But, if I have to think about the changes, it gets much harder to make melody. Also, even if I can feel the changes, I have to stop myself from having a technique occur to me and then making a conscious decision to employ it the solo. Mostly, that's where the solo heads south. I think of that as my mind wandering from what it's supposed to be doing, which is, more or less, staying out of the way.

  18. #17

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    The solo is an abstract of the melody that exploits the particular characteristics of the soloist's instrument.

  19. #18

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    It's pretty simple really.

    Like others have said a melody to a tune is; typically more sparse, may be intended for the human voice, makes a distinct statement, and is designed to be uncluttered.

    An instrumental solo involves expansion, variation, and elaboration. A similar (not same) concept is found in Symphonic Form: I. Theme, II. Development, III. Recapitulation. The second movement "Development" could be thought of as similar to a jazz solo at least in terms of objectives (if little else).

    Fiction has similarities as well. A simple beginning with the stage set and characters introduced etc., then the story may get much more involved with lots of twists, turns, and surprises, and is also expected to resolve back to some kind of conclusive ending.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by emanresu
    Melody - each note counts. The effort is there also with not-so-good ones.
    When working on creating one, I just roll it back and forward, check if everything snaps together perfectly. Kinda listen it like in 3d or something. Every part has to "speak" with all other parts.

    Solo is more like 2d.. linear. The form keeps it all together but it seems most soloist go for question/answer. Meaning 2 phrases are closely tied together, but the ties are very much loosened after 3-4 phrases.

    It's a great question btw. Probably the best one ever
    I think your observations are closest to how I view this...

    The real distinction between melody and soloing is a particular relationship between the notes and the chord harmonies. Lots of possible relations have been mentioned, but the critical one to me is the "interpretive identity" (regarding preserving the recognition of the tune).

    This is made more clear by thinking about jazz soloing rule #1 - "Let the melody be your guide".

    The meaning behind this is suggesting that the melody is already a guide, but a guide for what? Melody is the guide for how to uniquely interpret the chord progression of a particular tune (same functional moves and changes that occur in many other tunes)... tunes' melodies make their identities distinct. In other words, the melody answers the question, "What tune is this?" This is why standard jazz performance is to start the tunes by playing the head (melody) to remind the musicians which tune is being played.

    Imagine two tunes that share most of their progression harmonies in common and you discard their melodies and just solo using your vocabulary, theory, ear, or just hands on auto... who knows which of the tunes you might be playing? The melodies' special connections to their tunes' progressions make manifest the identities of the tunes, so when melody is your guide when soloing the tunes' identities continue to be restored and revealed.

  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by jazzereh
    Maybe I'm not quite understanding ragman1 [and others above] but solos can be, and do become, a melody. Yes, there's lots of solos that are very complicated musically and stand on their own but if you were to listen to solos by, say, Gerry Mulligan, a lyrical player, there are sections that you could take and use as a melody. No?
    Well what would you do to turn that solo into a melody?

    And there's your answer....

  22. #21

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    This "linearity" up there, I didn't mean to say anything negative about it at all.
    But without pre-meditating about everything what is going to happen in the solo, it just goes like that.
    And, when it works the right way, it can be insanely good just as it comes.
    ...but "good" is not what we're talking about here now I guess.

    Personally the strangest thing is, a bad or uninspiring tune can bring me down. Sometimes I have to leave the room(when live) or switch the box off.. But can't say the same about uninspiring solo.
    When it's not my cup of tea, the solo goes "neutral" but a melody can get so depressing.

  23. #22
    I had the good fortune to have studied with Dave Samuels. He was old school, a real melodicist. Each week I had to take a piece he assigned and I had to write/compose a solo on the changes. I had the time to consider things like Where do I begin the phrase? Do I complement or contrast with the previous phrase? Do I use longer notes to make the note breathe? How do I use rests to make my statement stronger? How does the use of dynamics effect the colouration of the story I'm telling? And tons of other things a composer thinks about but a "soloist" doesn't think they can think of on the fly.
    And there was nothing I incorporated into my weekly solo that didn't come from inside of me. There was nothing I "composed" that was not part of my soloing if I had the time to think about it. And by this process, my awareness became sharpened so these things became part of the real time soloing process. My solos became better, more logical, less reactive and more lyrical, and the ordering of ideas became more compositional as a whole.
    Melodic content and the things that were the realm of the composer were now things that shaped my options when I soloed.
    But it's more trouble to learn this way. It's a lot easier to just play Faster, Louder, Higher and throw in my favourite licks to fill in the space. It's your choice what you do in your practice time; it shapes who you become.

  24. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77
    As an exercise, try improvising on a 2 or 4 bar phrase, varied to fit the changes. It’s really good exercise. Here’s a vid I did:


    Amongst other things this works your musical memory and gets you out of ‘throwing notes on the chords’

    Great video! Not many videos or articles around touch on the subjects of melodic development for soloing.

    A couple I found:




  25. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by BigDaddyLoveHandles
    Paul Desmond's solos sound like melodies to me. In a good way!
    Guy's solo is actually a head in disguise! Mind=blown

  26. #25

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    Shall we give our favorite melody like solos ? good game

    (obviously 'Moody's Mood for love' is so fabulous that it got Lyrics written for it

    My favorite is Miles solo on 'Summertime' off Porgy and Bess ....... superb !

    sorry if this is a derail
    (feel free to ignore guys)

  27. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by ragman1
    Well... if solos sounded like melodies they wouldn't be solos and vice versa.

    Melodies are sparser, solos are denser.

    Solos wouldn't stand up as melodies by themselves.

    Melodies are statements, solos are fillers.

    If solos sounded like melodies they wouldn't be solos and vice versa.

    Can't think of anything else
    My view of soloing is the complete opposite of yours rag !

    (Which is totally OK, vive la difference)

  28. #27

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    What am I missing? When I play a solo, I'm improvising a melody.

  29. #28

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    What am I missing? When I play a solo, I'm improvising a melody.
    Right, but typically in a more elaborate fashion than the head.

  30. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRMan
    Right, but typically in a more elaborate fashion than the head.
    And it's still a melody...and often it's less elaborate than the head in some ways. There's a whole school of thought that less is more.

  31. #30

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    Less is more? How could that possibly be?

  32. #31

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    And it's still a melody...and often it's less elaborate than the head in some ways. There's a whole school of thought that less is more.
    Interesting, do you have an example? Would love to see/hear

  33. #32

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    Quote Originally Posted by GTRMan
    Interesting, do you have an example? Would love to see/hear
    Listen to enough jazz and you'll hear plenty of examples. I'd never generalize that head/melody=simple and solo=elaborate, complex. Lots of players' solo styles just don't go much beyond trying to invent a nice melody.

    Some bebop heads are so complex that the solos might be simpler.

    I think the original discussion may lend itself more to songs from the GAS, so yes, maybe why doesn't a solo in a Cole Porter tune sound as polished as the melody?

    Maybe I'm missing the point completely. The great melodic players like Desmond, Getz, Chet, Kenny Wheeler, Harrell, and many more seem to be more interested in making great melodies.

  34. #33

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    According to Bill Evans, Jazz is not a style, but a way of making music in real time.

    Our solos should strive to be melody lines (if you desire as I do to be a melodic player). This means that there is no difference between a good melody and a solo.

    The problem is that when the melody was composed it was NOT done in real time, so it has a self-organization and logic to it that comes from being shaped over long times and perfected. A solos has to be done in real time, so it is not as perfected as a melody.

    But again, the goal should be that a good solo sounds as good as a composition and is a great melody. You have to be able to compose in real time then. Most of us don't do that so well, so that is why the solo sounds different.


    Another way to look at this is that melody is horizontal. It flows in time and over time makes a logical statement at every time scale.

    Many soloists think vertically (what chord now, what chord next) which creates a vertical sound to the melody rather than a horizontal sound.

    The art of jazz is to do both - horizontal and vertical equally well.

    Since this takes a liftime of practice, a lot of what we hear is, well, still reaching.

  35. #34

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    Yes I know all about lyrical soloists and what not. Pres, Dexter, Desmond, Chet, Wes, Jim Hall etc. Thought about Bird heads too.

    Still can't agree about sameness though. Oh well.

  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by jazzereh
    Maybe I'm not quite understanding ragman1 [and others above] but solos can be, and do become, a melody. Yes, there's lots of solos that are very complicated musically and stand on their own but if you were to listen to solos by, say, Gerry Mulligan, a lyrical player, there are sections that you could take and use as a melody. No?
    Certainly. During lockdown the two artists I've listened to the most are Wayne Shorter and Charlie Parker. Shorter often hits a catchy riff in his solos and will repeat it, play with it once or twice (I often wish he'd stick with it for a few more bars than he does). Charlie Parker much less so, much more restless, but I have spotted the head from 'Cool Blues' cropping up in at least two of his solos in other tunes.

    To give a few other responses to the original question:
    Often the solo is being played by someone other than the composer! Stating the obvious here - so it's bound to be different, reflecting a different person's ideas about music.
    Improvisation, by its very nature, is going to take you to different places to the melody and to an extent its inherent value is perceived in terms of how it does this.
    In some contexts e.g. early bebop there was a competitive nature to soloing ('cutting') and issuing a challenge - to other players, to listeners. By no means unique to jazz.
    Last edited by Matt Milton; 08-11-2020 at 05:57 AM.

  37. #36

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    it is a very good question and I second most of what Christian says here.

    I think it is important to ask ouselves from time to time 'why do we hear it this or that way?'

    I also think it is much related to the topic of 'what we hear as improvized and what we hear as pre-composed'

    Even maybe it is more correct to put it this way? Rather than using very ambiguous notions of 'melody' and 'solo'?
    After all some The Beatles' solo have all the qualities of a melody.
    And some standard melodies may sound like solos.

    (not what the player thinks/wants/intends but what we (even if we are players) as listeners percieve this way.

    I guess this more what the OP meant? and this is what causes some misunderstanding in the thread?
    Solo can be a melody, improvization can be a solo, pre-composed music may sound like improvization...

    On the other hand we are all reasonable people and probably understand the convention unless we want to be provocative? I think i got what the OP meant..



    In general there are some qualities that we associate with the idea of 'melody' (I keep the word of the OP): it should have more or less clear structure, be recognizeable (catchy) and so and so on.
    Also it is associated with compositional talent/skills.

    but not to repeat others I would say that it should be something like a Person, i.d. integral and complete

    'Solo' also has particular spirit: it should have (at least a little) improvizational charater (feel of sponaneousness) even if it is totally pre-composed (there are lots of compsitions that sound like improvizations, even deliberately composed that way).
    Solo also is rather associated with perfomer's skills and gift.


    But again I would use a comparison: 'solo' it is more like a Mood of the Person, it does not have that integrity and universality - much more momentary.

  38. #37

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    A solo isn't supposed to be a melody; that's the whole point.

  39. #38

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    Melody is meant to be easily rememberable and singable, that's all

    No flurry of notes, very few wide leaps (may be an octave as in a few famous tunes), some repetitions help the remembering, but rarely a big lot (some blues excepted)

    Paul Desmond's solos are very like that, I remember his take five solo since I was a teen ager ...

  40. #39

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    It would depend. A solo is just one instrument preforming. and most melodies are more than one Instrument. Can a melody be done with just one instrument yes. But a solo is just one instrument being played.

  41. #40
    So, I think this isn't just a jazz thing. This appears in some classical music where there is a progression from simple to more complex, with the beginning of the piece often characterized as the melody usually with a recapitulation.

    Basically, what I think is going on here is that contrast is important and the distinction you hear between melody and solo is one form of contrast.

    This is less common in vocal music because the voice is less capable of articulating complex musical phrases.

    Now this doesn't mean that such an approach is mandatory, but it is fairly common in jazz.

    For me, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk are two soloists who often eschew complexity to create solos that are closer to "melodies".

    That said, I generally love the contrast between solos and melodies.

  42. #41

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    Hey!

    When comparing melody&impro to people talking.
    Melody would be like well prepared speech. Impro would be more like going to a party and see whats gonna happen.
    And the point is, the party people can have all sorts of moments there. I mean, the value of improvisation is not.. uh.. there is not too much point to say which method of making music is any better than the other. At all.
    Good time at a party is more about how people click with each other

  43. #42

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    Most of the melodies in the GASB come from Broadway musicals (or even opera in the case of the songs from Porgy and Bess). In context, these melodies are simple motifs within longer pieces full of development, orchestration, etc.. In jazz, they serve the same role, except that improvisation typically takes the place of the kind of compositional development you hear in the theater.

    A lot of the theatrical arrangements take things at least as far away from the original melody in terms of complexity and density as what jazz musicians do. So, really, jazz soloing s not such a foreign thing to these songs as it might seem.

    John