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Old 05-20-2019, 03:46 PM
Marley Marley is offline
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Default Jerry Garcia and playing the melody-HOW?

Jerry once said that the first thing he does with a song is figure out how to play all the lyrics/melody on his guitar in every position. There's no doubt he mastered that and I think it's personally why I can listen to him play solos way longer than any other guitarist I love. He had a knack for playing every syllable of every lyric with his guitar so perfectly.

How do you do it? Where do you start to try and figure out the melody on the guitar? Especially for someone who doesn't have perfect pitch and can simply find all the right notes easily.

Do you start with the root note of the beginning chord or something like that? Sorry, I'm way dumb with this topic.

Give thanks for any help!
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Old 05-20-2019, 04:48 PM
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To obtain the big picture, and one that is presented in an organized fashion, get a good start by reading a book about music composition.
I suggest "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Music Composition" for example.

In the meantime see what you can do with just the melody line from something that you already know - say some Christmas tune.
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Old 05-20-2019, 05:31 PM
Bunnyf Bunnyf is offline
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I also always start with picking out the melody line. Say I want to play Ripple in G. I know the G scale. I know that the song has a pickup leading (if my words did glow) up to the first chord G. I know my G scale. I’ll strum a bit and get my pitch singing (or in my ear) to figure what note is the one thats gonna match the G chord for glow. Then its just a matter of starting below that note on the g scale to figure what the notes would be for the run up to “glow”. It comes together pretty easily.
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Old 05-20-2019, 08:18 PM
Gordon Currie Gordon Currie is offline
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Early on, when I didn't know the fretboard very well, I would sing the melody and try and match each pitch with a corresponding note on the fretboard.

Not only is this relatively straightforward (as long as you can roughly sing the pitches) but you also get the bonus of picking up elements of phrasing.
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Old 05-20-2019, 10:50 PM
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If a song is on the tough side I'll always learn the melody first just to get the positions down and then go back to fill in. I'm not guessing what the notes are, I'm reading the notation. When someone says "figure out" it doesn't necessarily mean they are doing it by ear. There's different ways to play things and some people change things up to fit what they want to do, so they have to "figure" it out.

When I worked in construction, back in the days of the dinosaurs, we had a guy on our crew that insisted that certain contractors did things by "eye", ignoring the fact that these very same people had an engineer's transit in the back of their truck.

Don't be that guy.
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Old 05-20-2019, 11:31 PM
Chipotle Chipotle is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TBman View Post
If a song is on the tough side I'll always learn the melody first just to get the positions down and then go back to fill in. I'm not guessing what the notes are, I'm reading the notation. When someone says "figure out" it doesn't necessarily mean they are doing it by ear. There's different ways to play things and some people change things up to fit what they want to do, so they have to "figure" it out.

When I worked in construction, back in the days of the dinosaurs, we had a guy on our crew that insisted that certain contractors did things by "eye", ignoring the fact that these very same people had an engineer's transit in the back of their truck.

Don't be that guy.
Hmm, not sure that analogy holds completely. I can hear a G and find a G on the guitar pretty easily, no transit needed.

Back when I played in a cover band, we didn't get the sheet music for many--in fact, ANY--of the songs we did. You listened to the album repeatedly, trying to hear the parts and the replicate them completely by ear. If you were decent you could probably make your part indistinguishable from the original when played in a full band setting. And probably better than some transcriptions--I've seen some pretty bad ones for popular songs, tbh. Picking out the melody, as opposed to the bass part or background guitars, is pretty simple.

It's something you get better at with a lot of practice. Figure out the key of the song first. Sometimes it can be helpful to figure out the chords, so you can hear how the melody is harmonized. Learning intervals can be helpful too--is that a major third? Minor third? Fourth, sixth? Listen for ascending an descending runs in the scale that matches the chord. It's training your ear to hear these things first, then you can translate them to notes or intervals on the fretboard.
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Old 05-20-2019, 11:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Chipotle View Post
Hmm, not sure that analogy holds completely. I can hear a G and find a G on the guitar pretty easily, no transit needed.

Back when I played in a cover band, we didn't get the sheet music for many--in fact, ANY--of the songs we did. You listened to the album repeatedly, trying to hear the parts and the replicate them completely by ear. If you were decent you could probably make your part indistinguishable from the original when played in a full band setting. And probably better than some transcriptions--I've seen some pretty bad ones for popular songs, tbh. Picking out the melody, as opposed to the bass part or background guitars, is pretty simple.

It's something you get better at with a lot of practice. Figure out the key of the song first. Sometimes it can be helpful to figure out the chords, so you can hear how the melody is harmonized. Learning intervals can be helpful too--is that a major third? Minor third? Fourth, sixth? Listen for ascending an descending runs in the scale that matches the chord. It's training your ear to hear these things first, then you can translate them to notes or intervals on the fretboard.
I have no experience in a band or playing professionally, but as an accountant with over 30 years experience and over 45 years working I've learned not to re-invent the wheel. If something is easy to figure out by ear, go for it, otherwise its a waste of time I would think. Just get the tab (if available) and do it. Otherwise your way is the best.

I've been playing since I was 9. Except for a period as a teenager and young adult I've always tracked down the notation for something I wanted to learn. I'd rather play than sit there and try to figure something out by ear these days.
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Old 05-21-2019, 03:47 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Originally Posted by Marley View Post
Jerry once said that the first thing he does with a song is figure out how to play all the lyrics/melody on his guitar in every position. There's no doubt he mastered that and I think it's personally why I can listen to him play solos way longer than any other guitarist I love. He had a knack for playing every syllable of every lyric with his guitar so perfectly.

How do you do it? Where do you start to try and figure out the melody on the guitar? Especially for someone who doesn't have perfect pitch and can simply find all the right notes easily.
You don't need perfect pitch. Just play along with the singer and try to match the notes they're singing. That's relative pitch.

Even with a bad ear, if you can read notation it's easy. I suspect Garcia could (although doubtless he could play along with recordings too).
I had a terrible ear when I began learning guitar, but I could read notation, so I borrowed songbooks and played the melodies - this was before I was much good at chords. I didn't really understand harmony, but I loved a good tune (and a good rhythm), so that's what I played. I couldn't sing, so I did the next best thing, which was play the melody on the guitar. (When I couldn't find notation, I'd learn melodies by ear from records using a tape deck - getting them note by note.)

What that meant was that - quite accidentally - I never had any problem improvising. I always understood how to do it, even when I wasn't technically very good, because you just made up tunes to go with the chords. I could see that melodies were always based on chord tones, and phrasing came naturally because of how many melodies I'd learned. It was like I was able to "sing" with my guitar. (Maybe not beautifully, given my rudimentary technique and untrained ear, but certainly melodically.)

IOW, Garcia is exactly right, and is saying what any jazz musician would say: play the melody first; THEN improvise on it. It's crazy to try improvising on any song until you've learned to play the melody. That's a no-brainer for a jazz musician. If you haven't learned the melody, then your improvisation is going to be generic - even if you follow the chords properly it's going to sound the same as any other solo you'd play on the same chords. And if you haven't learned a bunch of melodies before that, you will have no melodic vocabulary to build phrases from - no sense of how phrasing works.
The other point is that learning the melody makes your improvisation not just better but easier - the melody is your guide, your template. You don't have to invent from scratch, you start with what you're given - and then play around with it.
(As for the idea of "playing the lyrics", that's what Miles Davis said. When asked how he played so emotively on ballads, he said he thought about the lyrics. Again, you're singing with your instrument - singing what the song is about.)

I'm always amazed how rarely I see that simple advice for improvisers: start from what you're given. The melody, rhythms and chords. That's your raw material. There is nothing else to know or understand - other than how to play both on your instrument of course. No theories or scales to "apply" from outside. The tune in front of you has everything you need. (You can still add chromatics for jazzy embellishments, but that's just decorating the given material.)
So much improvisation advice is obsessed with the chords - and "applying scales" to them - and ignoring the absolute fundamental roles of melody and rhythm. I suspect some teachers just assume that's obvious, that it doesn't need saying. But clearly it does!

Here's my favourite jazz professor rant on the topic of chord-scales and melodic improvisation:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NehOx1JsuT4
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Last edited by JonPR; 05-21-2019 at 04:00 AM.
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Old 05-21-2019, 07:59 AM
Marley Marley is offline
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Thank you all for the great advice. JonPR, I think you really the nail on the head for me and in general for guitarist as a whole. I don't mean to stay on Garcia but in the end it has to be the reason I enjoy his playing so much. There's a huge difference between playing a solo while using the melody of the song as your basis vs the more abundant soloing we hear that simply plays through scales in that key. The later is what I've always done. Key of Am, well here's my Am pentatonic scale. Sounded pretty much like the Gm pentatonic scale I played for the last song. That's exactly why I've always thought so little of my soloing.
Jerry had said numerous times in many interviews that what he liked to do was devour every new method book he could get his hands on. When he came home from a tour he said the first thing he'd do is buy as many new method books as he could find and go through them all day and night. The guys around him said he's have that guitar strapped on and one his books and would just be cruising around his fretboard hour after hour, year after year. He did this for several decades so it's no wonder how he mastered the guitar and his fretboard.
Thank you all! Big help
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Old 06-03-2019, 12:35 PM
DesertTwang DesertTwang is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marley View Post
J
How do you do it? Where do you start to try and figure out the melody on the guitar? Especially for someone who doesn't have perfect pitch and can simply find all the right notes easily.
You don't need to have perfect pitch for this, only relative pitch. Very, very few people have perfect pitch, but relative pitch is a skill that can be learned. It's what allows you to hum a note and find that same note on your guitar, by trial and error. Many people have either been told in the past they are "tone-deaf," or are convinced based on their own experience that they are. Most are mistaken. About as few people are truly tone-deaf as there are people with perfect pitch, possibly even fewer. Unless someone is truly tone-deaf, anyone can learn to identify notes, pitches and keys and "develop an ear," and that's exactly what you should do. It takes practice and some find it easier than others. For me, it's very hard, but I've noticed improvements over time because I constantly challenge myself, either by learning new songs and tunes by ear, or by simply listening. For example, the other night, as I waited for my baby son to fall asleep, the soother was playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and I listened to the slow arpeggios played by the pianist's right hand. I tried to determine, just by listening, what the intervals are in those arpeggios. Later, I went to my guitar and tried to figure out whether my hypothesis was correct (it wasn't). But this is how you learn this stuff; you have to do it all the time.

Start paying attention to melodies and try to find out what the intervals are. For example, have you ever noticed how "Happy Birthday" is surprisingly difficult to sing? There is a reason so many impromptu choirs at office parties sound horrific. That's because there is a whole octave jump in that song, and unless someone is at least a reasonably practiced singer, they won't know this and have difficulty hitting the right note.

Your job as a musician is to learn how to recognize those things, and eventually, being able to hear that octave jump based on the relative pitch you have developed.

It's a fun journey, enjoy!
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Last edited by DesertTwang; 06-03-2019 at 01:33 PM.
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