Forward Steps in Melodic Soloing Part 1 

(below: a link to the actual published magazine article)

You will sometimes hear one player say of another – “His/Her solos are really melodic”.

We intuitively value improvising in a melodic fashion. I want to talk in

the next two columns about how this concept is evolving in jazz education.
If you have ever asked yourself any of the following questions, you may find this topic very

What should I play in my solo? How do I keep coming up with new ideas?
How long can I stay with one idea? How do I develop it? When is it time
to move to a completely new idea? What makes a solo compelling for a listener?
How do I make my solo interesting through the whole thing?
Keep these questions in mind, and let’s begin by looking at a little history of jazz education,

and then we’ll look at how the focus is shifting in jazz education with a larger spotlight on

melodic improvisation.
Formal college-level jazz education has been around a relatively short time, with interest

beginning to take shape in the late 70’s. This interest was often slow in growing, as many

academic programs showed resistance to both jazz and guitar as serious artistic pursuits.
Conservative academics tended to look on jazz and especially guitar as less desirable

step-children that did not deserve to be even close to the esteemed place of classical music.

That old order is rapidly changing, and jazz, along with degree programs in guitar, are finding
acceptance as legitimate courses of study in the arts. The teaching methods and emphases

within these programs are rapidly evolving as well. The early days of jazz education taught

a rather pedantic approach to playing the music: “Outline the changes”…”play this scale over
that chord”…”use this technique to play outside”….”practice scales”. This intellectual approach

to a form of music that was meant to be emotionally evocative is thankfully starting to run

out of gas!
In the recent past, books with scale studies and rote patterns have been infinite in number.

This represents the prior focus on the analytical approach to the music, and is an approach

that tends to be mechanical in “playing the right notes against whatever chord”. In contrast

to that approach, I have found two books, written recently, that I think represent a new

trend and a new focus in jazz improvisation. They also represent a new direction for how

people will teach this music. The focus is on melodic improvisation and the actual
ways one can develop this ability. The focus is on improvising meaningful melodies as

opposed to simply outlining the harmony with scales and arpeggios!


 Brian Kane’s text "Constructing Melodic Jazz Improvisation" I think is a breakthrough in this area that really gets young players focused on melodic intent rather than playing scales and licks. Kane discusses all the aspects of improvisation that can help move a player’s solos to a
new level of meaning: how to develop a solo from start to finish, how to communicate
with listeners, how to be intentional about phrase length, how to have melodic intent in a solo, how to use techniques that can develop an idea, how to play improvised melodies in a conversational style using question/answer and call/response techniques, how to expand
one’s melodic memory so that previous ideas can be replayed, how to use intervallic ideas,
how to use repetition and development of motifs, how to effectively use rest space, how to use inflections to help develop a personal style. Emphasizing on these techniques results in a totally different feeling in the solo, one that focuses on a communicative style. Afterall, isn’t that our goal, to communicate something meaningful in the music which moves people to a new plane of existence through their listening?! 
Kane focuses on the 12-bar blues form to practice these techniques (with a CD play-a-long). And while the text is aimed primarily at players who are earlier in their career, I found the ideas so coherent and meaningful that I believe even experienced players -- who want to refocus on the craft of creating melodies -- can also find this to be a highly valuable resource. Certainly, Kane’s approach can help players from many skill levels craft more meaningful solos.
When you want to change something about your life (in this case, learning to play more meaningful melodic solos!), put your energy in that direction. While you’re waiting for Kane’s book to arrive,
conduct a web search for discussions as to what other players are doing to advance this skill [use search words like: melodic development, melodic improvisation, etc.]; listen with intent to classic
jazz recordings with regard to development of melodies [specifically, where do the masters repeat ideas, develop them, make sequences out of them, invert them, and when do they move on to a new idea? You can chart an entire solo and study the ways he/she has developed the solo, paying attention to how the contour of the solo unfolds and creates greater excitement by the end]; talk to other players you know about how they advance this skill; focus more on memorizing melodies
rather than playing scales [some advanced players believe scales should not be practiced at all!]; and above all, maintain persistence in advancing your melodic craft –- it will pay off!
Exciting stuff! Come back next month for more in depth work on melodic improvising and a review
of a second text that tackles this topic!
INDEX of magazine columns