Melody versus scale-based soloing.

ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
in Technique Posts: 341
As I continue my musical journey, I find myself noticing something that someone else mentioned on this forum. He said something to the effect that he could hear when someone was soloing with an emphasis on melody verses a knowledge or basis of scales. I'm finding that I have been attracted all along to the more melody-based solos and the licks that comprise them versus those solos that are technically scale-correct, but seem to be saying not very much melodically.

For example, I think the epitome of a melody-based solo is the classic "I'll See You In My Dreams." (I think it was voted one of the top 10 guitar solos of all time.) Sure, I've taken apart the solo and can find the correct scale and corresponding chord. But the solo is so beautifully composed on its own, that it can stand and challenge the actual melody of the tune.

For this reason, I have concentrated the bulk of my efforts on memorizing the Django solos and drawing what I need from them. (Who could argue with this approach?) In contrast, I have enjoyed the always energetic but playful and interesting Stochelo solos, and have spent a number of months on his site as well. Also, while not strictly a Gypsy Jazz player, I have found the phrasing of Joe Vignola to be very interesting and melodic.

So, fellow pickers, do you agree with my assessment? Can you name some of the great players that have come after Django who seem to solo primarily on melody-based ideas? Can you name a tune to illustrate your point?

I think this would be a great list. I know I sure would like to delve into it myself.


  • anthon_74anthon_74 Marin county, CA✭✭✭✭ Alta Mira M 01
    Posts: 561
    That is a massive subject. In all honesty, the weakest part of my playing is the original melodies of songs. I've spent so much time trying to understand what notes I can play in a jazz context (after years of rock and roll pentatonic soloing) I often forget all about the melody.
    Of course, this is something I'm planning on changing over the next few months. I'm looking to start mastering the heads of as many songs as possible. I don't know, they tend to not stick in my fingers so I give up on them.

    All in all, I think it does certainly benefit the solo to have the melody in mind as often as possible, although there are obviously many players out there who clearly don't (myself included in many songs).

    Django certainly strayed pretty far from the melody, although you know he knew them quite well.

  • woodamandwoodamand Portland, OR✭✭✭ 2015 JWC Favino replica
    Posts: 227
    Both approaches can work together I think. If you were also a wind player as I am, the first thing you do is learn the melody, every time. As Thelonius Monk wrote on a set list once "play the f-ing melody!"
    That being said, I am enjoying the hell out of messing with solos based on the chord shapes, rather than just play by ear like I did forever. The nice thing about following the chord shapes is that you can't get lost, and it can be easier to tie the sections of the solos together. And of course you don't have to give up playing outside either.
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
    Posts: 341
    Correction: the guy I'm thinking of is Frank Vignola. And, by the way, one of his signature pieces of advice that has always stuck with me is to learn the melody/head of the tune all over the fretboard. There's even a YouTube video where he demonstrates this with "All of Me."
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,320
    Yeah learn the heads/solos/licks but this stuff is primarily arpeggio based improvs not scale based (in general).
  • ChiefbigeasyChiefbigeasy New Orleans, LA✭✭✭ Dupont MDC 50; The Loar LH6, AJL Silent Guitar
    Posts: 341
    Well, I when I said "scaled-based," I was thinking arpeggios as well. The main distinction I was drawing was melody-based improvising vs any kind of form-based. I know many of us here have recognized varying approaches to the same problem as did Anthony in his comment above.

    So, I'll expand my original question to include this one: have you thought about your own approach to playing in these terms and why? (Anthony has already begun an answer to this question for himself.)
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,320
    Oh ok, I see.
  • I get this entirely. The goal, or at least my goal, is to be creating nice melodies.
  • JojoJojo London UK
    Posts: 190
    The first couple of choruses electric solo to Minor Swing 1947. Only heard it a few years ago and possibly the first time I picked up on the fact there was an overdriven Gypsy Jazz sound...solo absolutely blew me away. Absolutely gorgeous, v melodic
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,858
    I started working on this style since attending my first DiJ in 2008, so it's been almost ten years now.

    And finally in the last couple of years, I've found that I've been able to play little licks fills and melodies that I conceive on the spot, and find "head" melodies by ear, like I used to do when I was a kid learning to play the harmonica.

    Once you learn all those arps all over the fretboard, somehow your ear just learns to hear when non-chord tones would be appropriate, and your fingers learn to find them. It's kind of a mystery!

    I don't yet have the kind of uncanny perfect radar ears that I dream of having, but I've found that I've gradually gotten better at faking my way out of pratfalls and jackpots. Sometimes just bending that flat note a half tone higher can be all you need to do!

    Part of the process seems to be expecting myself NOT to play things perfectly and not getting upset about it, its just part of the deal.

    My style is gradually evolving, especially since I don't really play gypsy jazz; I play with a clarinet/sax guy and an upright bass, and the music we play is mostly swing and Dixie.

    So I'm trying to train myself to be my own rhythm guitar player by throwing in a few chords along the way as I'm dong single note solos. If you've ever heard Howard Alden, he's the master of this!

    I don't claim to play anything like Howard Alden, but I have a lot of fun playing in this bastardized style.

    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

    Edgar Degas: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.... To draw, you must close your eyes and sing."

    Georges Braque: "In art there is only one thing that counts: the bit that can’t be explained."
  • Not quite sure what is meant by scale based soloing. Melodies are usually scale based. Arpeggios are scale based. Soooo....I'm going to offer two separate thoughts, that hopefully @Chiefbigeasy will clarify if I am on the right track.

    If by scale based soloing one really means rattling off a bunch of scales and arpeggios in a facile display of technique, there is a lot of that in GJ, (and others but I will keep my thoughts GJ specific). It can be extremely impressive at the levels of technical expertise in our genre which, btw, I believe to be the most demanding of technique.

    The alternative, I usually refer to as lyrical playing, where the melodic invention being created, is both musical and emotionally complex. IMO the highest form of lyrical invention in a specific song, is to play something completely different, yet capturing the essence of the original melody enough that if one heard the solo only, one would not perhaps be able to get the name of the tune right away, but it would trigger that psychoacoustic memory of the original and as soon as it comes back to the melody ones mediator thinks " of course, I knew it was that" or some such.

    Without naming names, I hVe been lee visiting Selmer 607 invite over the past week. Good examples of both in that CD.
    The Magic really starts to happen when you can play it with your eyes closed
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