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Stella By Starlight Melody

In this video guitar lesson I show you how you can play the theme of Stella by Starlight (written by Viktor Young) in a typical trio situation (drums + bass + guitar). In a guitar trio there is no one to play the chords except you, but since you are also the one to play the theme (most of the time), you'll have to combine playing chords and melody notes.

Playing in a guitar trio requires a different technique compared to playing in a quartet or duo. The guitarist is the one who needs to play the harmony since there is nobody else to do it for you. One thing you do not need to play are the bass notes, we have the bass player to play those.

When playing in a duo (with a singer or saxophone player for example) it also becomes your responsibility to play the bass. When you're playing with other harmonic instruments (piano for example), there's no need for you to play chords, the piano will do plenty of them. I usually stick to single notes or octaves when playing with a piano, when you both start to play chords there's too much going on in my opinion.


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Some people will not agree with me, but I think it is important to play the theme more or less like it is written. I don't like it when I hear a band playing a jazz standard and I can barely recognize the theme. That doesn't mean that you can't play embellishments and rhythmic variations here and there to make a theme more alive, but I don't like it when it's overdone.

Another thing to watch out for in a trio is the chords getting in the way of the melody, volume-wise and energy-wise. When playing a melody, the melody notes are the most important, not the chords. The chords are there to support the theme rhythmically and harmonically. You can make the sound of your trio more transparent by making a clear distinction between melody and accompaniment (although you are the one playing both of them). It's a fine balance though, and not always easy to find.

Here's the video:



For those of you that don't have Band in a Box yet, here's an mp3 of the backing track:

You can download the audio of the video as an mp3 here (right click the following link with your mouse and select Save Target As...): Stella by Starlight Mp3


Here are the guitar tabs for Stella By Starlight:


Stella By Starlight Guitar Tabs


Some clarification about what I'm playing in this video (I omitted the obvious):

  • Bar 1: I really like the sound of an 11 over and m7b5 chord. You can obtain this sound in your solo's by playing a Bbmaj7 or Am7 arpeggio (over Em7b5). More about playing over m7b5 guitar chords.
  • Bar 9 and 13: the first note of the melody in these two bars is the 4 of the major chord, the so called avoid note. Here it serves as an harmonic delay.
  • Bar 17: the two note in and out slide here is something Jaco Pastorius used frequently.
  • Bar 21: the Ab7(#11) is a lydian dominant chord.
  • Bar 24: I play the #11 of Bbmaj7 here.
  • Bar 31: sorry for the end guys, just following Band in a Box.
  • Bar 34: the C triad over Bb is a Bb6/9(#11).

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