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Improve Your Melody Playing On The Guitar



These two videos contrast different approaches to playing melody lines on the guitar. In ' Deck The Halls' the guitarist must play the melody, the chords and the bass notes.  In order to play a solo fingerstyle arrangement like this one you need to develop the ability to pluck two or more notes simultaneously. This style of playing demands you become a one man band. Think of the R.H. thumb as your bass player.  The index, middle and ring finger double as your  rhythm and lead guitarist. The melody of  'Deck The halls' is relatively easy to play on its own as a series of single notes. But once we add the four bass notes that must be played in just about every bar of this arrangement we need to put some thought and effort into acquiring stamina and technique to sustain the constant four-to-the-bar rhythm of the piece. 'Clawhammer is the name often given to this style of playing four bass notes (usually alternating from root to fifth of the chord) to the bar.

 



Deck The Halls arranged for guitar by John Murphy



 


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Imagine : Guitarist Bill Frisell 

Build Guitar Solo Based on the Melody

In this video Bill Frisell shows how effective it can be to simply play the melody of a song like 'Imagine' in single note style and gradually use that melody to build a solo. Bill shows here that Eric Clapton has a rival for the title of 'Slow Hand' in his deliberate and measured approach to the interpretation of the classic John Lennon song. Music is about creating and resolving tension and aural expectations. Bill holds the ear hostage by creating a certain tension in delaying his improvisation on the melody. Indeed, as you listen to Bill and the band slowly work the 'head' or main melody of 'Imagine' you almost begin to wonder if he is ever going to solo or , at least, give us a 'fill' or flashy scale run. But, eventually, when he does launch into his solo fills, the delayed gratification adds to the enjoyment of it.

Bill shuns the guitar-shop soloists love affair with pentatonic chord boxes and shredding the guitar fretboard. Instead, he  sustains the interest of the listener with his lovely warm tone and impeccable timing and phrasing. I remember Martin Taylor commenting in Guitar Techniques, how he likes to listen to great singers such as Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald to get ideas for musical nuance and to improve his phrasing. Tone, timing and phrasing are just as important to develop as finger dexterity. 

Relating Melody Notes To Chords

In building your own solos you should try to understand how melody notes relate to the chords of the song. Identify whether the note is a root, 3rd, 5th, etc or a passing tone.

Try to target some of these essential harmony notes of the chords in your solo. Examine the rhythmic time values of the melody and imitate those rhythms on chord arpeggios and scales. Don't be afraid of a little silence between notes and musical phrases. If you want to make the guitar sing, think like a singer. Play long held notes and stop playing every once in a while to catch your breath. Resting your fingers will allow the music to breathe and this, in turn, will create a more musically satisfying solo. Putting these ideas on creating melodic solos into practice will improve your tone, rhythm, melody/chord knowledge, note targeting, timing and phrasing.  

 
 



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