I'm Tony Miceli, and I'm a vibe player in Philadelphia, Pa. I play, teach and I run

Monday, June 25, 2007

Observations On a Melody

Anybody my age should remember that show, I think it was called American Bandstand. Anyway, on the show, people from the audience would come up and rate songs. They’d give it a point value and usually say something like: ‘I give it a 9, I liked the song and you can dance to it’. It’s weird but for some reason that phrase came back in my head and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now.

I get the ‘you can dance to it part’. The music has to move you, if it doesn’t ‘move’ you in some way then it’s ‘bad’ music. Bad music can only in my mind be defined as music that doesn’t ‘move’ you. It can be different from person to person. As I’m writing this I’m listening to the Ray Brown CD ‘Some of My Best Friends Are Sax Players’. I’m tapping all over the place. This music moves me, so it’s good music! It’s relative to the listener. ‘Move’ I would think could mean physically moving or even mentally moving. i. e. the emotional impact of a piece of music.

The other part I’ve been thinking about is the part about ‘I Liked the Song’. That could mean a lot of things. I think in part it means how well the melody is played besides how great the melody and chords are.

So I went playing through my Itunes library, listening to different tracks. I was checking out who was playing the ‘song’ well. It was amazing that when someone did a (in my opinion) great interpretation of a melody that I felt as if that helped the soloists. I realized how much is determined during that first chorus. That gave me a 100 more things to work on. Listening to Joe Lavano, Wynton and Herbie play melodies and play the opening of the tune made me realize that they’re setting up the solos, getting everybody ready in a way. Of course the whole band is doing that, but I was focusing on the melody tonight.

It’s something I take for granted in some ways. I have tons of singers singing standards and I listen to them a lot and listen how they phrase. On instruments we don’t have the words so we have to convey another ‘story’. It might be related to the words but it doesn’t have to be.

So I just sat here for a couple of hours listening to the ‘cats’ play tunes, focusing on the opening melodies.

I wonder if and which musicians put in time just playing melodies over and over. I would learn a melody but up until the last month or 2 I didn’t attach enough weight to the melody. It seems to me like there’s a whole study there in phrasing, rhythm and embellishment that could totally help improvising.

I realize that in a way this is obvious stuff, it’s just I never put it into words until I remembered the old TV show and the audience rating the songs.

Larry Mckenna was talking to me and he said he always has the melody of the tune somewhere in his head. It might be way in the back of his mind but it’s there, and he plays off the melody as much as the chords. I play with him all the time and he plays melodies so beautifully.

I also imagine that if you put time in on the melody of a tune and work with it, that that will help you remember the tune. I learn and forget SO many tunes. I know that the more emotion I put in and get out of learning a tune that the better I will remember it.

Add to this that the bass player I played with today made a joke about how hard it is to solo over Happy Birthday! He didn’t mean the chords were difficult, he meant that he just couldn’t play anything and get any ideas. I remembered thinking that before, also. It’s the melody. I’ve heard it over and over and have played it over and over, and for me it's become a dumb melody. I'm not too happy whenever I have to play it on a gig.

So my thinking is on the melody and what I can get out of really studying a melody and trying to play it well. I wonder what other people think and how and if they practice ‘the melody’.


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