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Lesson: Melodic Construction

Another Look at Melodic Construction in Improvisation

What do we play? Where does it come from? How do we make our own melody?

  • The melody of the song or tune
  • The rhythmic structure
  • An alternative positive melodic statement derived from the harmonic or rhythmic environment, or a melody from another song that fits the “changes”
  • The development, embellishment, and ornamentation of the above ideas through the use of non-harmonic – , or non-chord -, tones.

For the sake of this presentation, we will focus on the last category, particularly the role of non-harmonic tones.

A frequently used technique in melodic construction is the use of non-harmonic tones, followed by their resolution. Through the use of these tones, tension and release can be employed within the melody itself, giving the melodic line a life and power independent of its underlying harmony. The introduction of non-harmonic tones means that any note of the chromatic scale can be played on any chord, provided that it resolves to a chord tone.

Melodic Construction

Types of non-harmonic tones

I. Passing tone: A non-chord tone added between two different chord tones, either a step or half-step away, usually from the chordal scale -
Melodic Construction: Passing tone

II. Neighbor tone: A non-chord tone added between two chord tones of the same pitch, either a step or half-step away -

Melodic Construction: Neighbor tone

III. Appoggiatura: A non-chord tone preceded by a leap from a chord tone and resolved by a step or half-step to a chord tone, usually in the opposite direction from the leap -

Melodic Construction: Appoggiatura

IV. Escape tone: Non-chord tone a step or half-step away from its preceding chord tone, resolved by a leap to a different chord tone -

Melodic Construction: Escape tone

V. Changing tones: 2 or more notes, beginning a step or half-step either above or below a chord tone, which then skips to another tone, usually a major or minor third away, on the other side of the chord tone, then resolves to the originating chord tone by either a step or half step -

Melodic Construction: Changing tones

Additional notes can be inserted chromatically either before or after the skip in a changing tone series:

Melodic Construction: Changing tones

Or, the originating tone can be left out:

Melodic Construction: Changing tones without originating tone

VI. Suspension:

A. A delay in the resolution of a non-chord tone that may have existed in the previous chord -

Melodic Construction: Suspension Figure A

B. A deliberate displacement of a chord tone for an alternate harmonic effect -

Melodic Construction: Suspension Figure B

C. A neighbor tone not preceeded by a chord tone resolved to a chord tone, where the target tone may exist in the underlying harmony, creating a dissonance -

Melodic Construction: Suspension Figure C

VII. Anticipation: Early arrival on a chord tone from the next chord -

Melodic Construction: Anticipation

VIII. Approaches: A series, pattern, or sequence of notes aiming toward a chord tone, but extending further back in time than the traditional ornamentation types -

A. Stepwise, either whole, half, or some combination thereof:

Melodic Construction: Approaches Figure A-1

Melodic Construction: Approaches Figure A-2

Melodic Construction: Approaches Figure A-3

B. Via sequence:

1. Stepwise -

Melodic Construction: Stepwise Sequence

2. Diatonic pattern -

Melodic Construction: Diatonic pattern Sequence

3. Intervalic pattern -

Melodic Construction: Intervalic pattern sequence

In case you want to see more right now… Rhythmic and Melodic Development In The Construction of Bass Lines is available as a pdf download!

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Comments:

Ratzo Harris says:

Thanks Jon,
That puts things into perspective. Mike Longo is one of the great thinkers and teachers of jazz who is also a fantastic pianist and natural band leader. I haven't seen the book you mention yet, but I think it will be a worthwhile addition to my library of treatises on jazz theory. As you point out, there are some books (Mark Levine comes to mind) that gives you access to information that can be applied through practicing the examples given and that sound “right.” There is also a sea of material that examines jazz theory in a way that is not as “user friendly.” These are great for the musicologist or theorist who is not a jazz musician, who wants to expand their understanding of music theory and history to include this music that has overwhelmed the dissenting part of the academic community. But those learning to play jazz, whether it be “on their own” (if there is such a thing) or in an institutional setting, need to have access to material that can be used—applied. I remember when the Ray Brown bass book came out. It was a god-send because everything in it was stuff you could use or even heard jazz bass players play. When Rufus Reid came out with “The Evolving Bassist,” the concept was expanded further. He even showed you how to get your bass in an airplane seat (like that can happen anymore)!

And of course, cambio=change. Cambiata (I mis-spelled it, too—it only has one “t”) would be “little changing things.” In “The Harvard Dictionary” the ornament is “properly a five-note figure, the second note of which is dissonant and the third of which is consonant.” The example used shows a D-natural descending to C-natural, then skipping to A-natural and rising to B-natural and coming to rest on C-natural. The first four notes are played over a D-natural bass and the final note is over a C-natural bass (actually a tenor line, one octave below the ornament). This indicates that the cambiata was originally meant to be used to move a melody through a progression, which is very different than the Longo examples, which use the changing tone to embellish a single note. But I have no problem with this and am not attempting to be critical of the difference. Only to point out how the terms, borrowed from classical harmony, have changed somewhat when applied to a jazz practice. This is also seen in how the difference between the augmented-sixth and dominant-seventh chords of “traditional” harmony are blurred and the former has disappeared as a harmonic referent. And in jazz, the dominant seventh isn’t even a dissonance anymore. In fact, a dominant-seven chord with an augmented eleventh would be a fine sonority to end a blues on. The beauty of jazz is that it allows for sound, just about any sound, to be worthy of being listened to. The triadic cadences of the masters of classical music just don’t make it in jazz. That’s why it’s troubling for me to think of jazz as America’s “classical music.”

Keep up the great work, Jon, and see you round the “campus”!

Jon Burr says:

Ratzo – also, looking at your post, I'm seeing that the cambiatta – or “double appoggiatura” – has been defined in Longo's work (and elsewhere probably!) as “changing tones,” which makes sense given that cambio=change….

Jon Burr says:

Ratzo Harris! Great to see your post here! An amazing bassist and long-time friend.. good to hear from you.

The piece I wrote here is based loosely on the work of Mike Longo.
One book of his in particular is really informative on this subject:
http://www.jazzbeat.com/html/improvisedline.html

If you play his examples, you sound like “the cats.” It's what people actually play, as opposed to the scalar and modal stuff that's all the vogue in jazz pedagogy.

His definition of “appoggiatura” was a new one on me, as well – but regardless of the terminology, the effect of that particular musical gesture in the example is unmistakably melodic. It works – “you can DO that!” – so the rest is interesting, but, as they say, academic. My interest is in finding generators for ideas, and I hope that these examples and terms do that, as they are. I'm going to practice my cambiattas!

Best
Jon

Ratzo Harris says:

Thanks Jon,
That puts things into perspective. Mike Longo is one of the great thinkers and teachers of jazz who is also a fantastic pianist and natural band leader. I haven't seen the book you mention yet, but I think it will be a worthwhile addition to my library of treatises on jazz theory. As you point out, there are some books (Mark Levine comes to mind) that gives you access to information that can be applied through practicing the examples given and that sound “right.” There is also a sea of material that examines jazz theory in a way that is not as “user friendly.” These are great for the musicologist or theorist who is not a jazz musician, who wants to expand their understanding of music theory and history to include this music that has overwhelmed the dissenting part of the academic community. But those learning to play jazz, whether it be “on their own” (if there is such a thing) or in an institutional setting, need to have access to material that can be used—applied. I remember when the Ray Brown bass book came out. It was a god-send because everything in it was stuff you could use or even heard jazz bass players play. When Rufus Reid came out with “The Evolving Bassist,” the concept was expanded further. He even showed you how to get your bass in an airplane seat (like that can happen anymore)!

And of course, cambio=change. Cambiata (I mis-spelled it, too—it only has one “t”) would be “little changing things.” In “The Harvard Dictionary” the ornament is “properly a five-note figure, the second note of which is dissonant and the third of which is consonant.” The example used shows a D-natural descending to C-natural, then skipping to A-natural and rising to B-natural and coming to rest on C-natural. The first four notes are played over a D-natural bass and the final note is over a C-natural bass (actually a tenor line, one octave below the ornament). This indicates that the cambiata was originally meant to be used to move a melody through a progression, which is very different than the Longo examples, which use the changing tone to embellish a single note. But I have no problem with this and am not attempting to be critical of the difference. Only to point out how the terms, borrowed from classical harmony, have changed somewhat when applied to a jazz practice. This is also seen in how the difference between the augmented-sixth and dominant-seventh chords of “traditional” harmony are blurred and the former has disappeared as a harmonic referent. And in jazz, the dominant seventh isn’t even a dissonance anymore. In fact, a dominant-seven chord with an augmented eleventh would be a fine sonority to end a blues on. The beauty of jazz is that it allows for sound, just about any sound, to be worthy of being listened to. The triadic cadences of the masters of classical music just don’t make it in jazz. That’s why it’s troubling for me to think of jazz as America’s “classical music.”

Keep up the great work, Jon, and see you round the “campus”!

Jon Burr says:

Ratzo – also, looking at your post, I'm seeing that the cambiatta – or “double appoggiatura” – has been defined in Longo's work (and elsewhere probably!) as “changing tones,” which makes sense given that cambio=change….

Jon Burr says:

Ratzo Harris! Great to see your post here! An amazing bassist and long-time friend.. good to hear from you.

The piece I wrote here is based loosely on the work of Mike Longo.
One book of his in particular is really informative on this subject:
http://www.jazzbeat.com/html/improvisedline.html

If you play his examples, you sound like “the cats.” It's what people actually play, as opposed to the scalar and modal stuff that's all the vogue in jazz pedagogy.

His definition of “appoggiatura” was a new one on me, as well – but regardless of the terminology, the effect of that particular musical gesture in the example is unmistakably melodic. It works – “you can DO that!” – so the rest is interesting, but, as they say, academic. My interest is in finding generators for ideas, and I hope that these examples and terms do that, as they are. I'm going to practice my cambiattas!

Best
Jon

JoelCiullabass says:

Nice presentation of a glance of the basics. Jon Burr gets right to the point.

I was fortunate enough to get music theory in my freshman year of High School ( 1973 ) from a great music teacher Mr. Robert Green. I went on to study with Mr. Bob Curnow ( Stan Kenton's right hand ) @ CSULA from ' 79 – ' 81.

ALL serious Bass Players must have ( a minimum of ) music theory, ear training and music composition ( especially Jazz theory ). Other musicians will respect and expect your musicianship.

Nice job Jon – Joel

Ratzo Harris says:

Of course, I didn't proof read my post – I consistently mis-spelled “appoggiatura,” which might lead someone to believe that you did. You didn't, and I pre-emptively apologize for that. I also left in typos in punctuation, one of which should be addressed. The quote from The Harvard Dictionary of Music ends at “… relatively weaker metrical position.” Also the book, On Playing the Flute, is by Johann Joachim Quantz, not Quant.

Again, my apologies.

-Ratzo B. Harris

Ratzo Harris says:

Hey Jon,

I love your thorough and straightforward presentation on tonal improvisational strategies in jazz, but I have a comment and a question about what you describe as the appogiatura.

You probably know that I recently decided to go to college as an old man to get a degree in music (I earned a Bachelor of Science in music and continued to get a Masters in jazz history).

When I had to study harmony (once again-I took two years of it in high school back in the 70s) non-chord tones were looked at for three units. We used a book, Harmonic Materials in Tonal Music, by Steinke (in high school I used the Walter Piston book). When we got to the part on non-chord tones, the description of the appogiatura didn't jibe with the one I learned before. I had learned that the appogiatura is an accented ornamental note (one that occurs on the beat) that approaches the chord tone by a step, not a leap (and was originally written with a symbol we now call a grace note (which is unaccented).

Steinke, though, used both a step-wise approach to the chordal tone and one of a leap (the example was a third). I addressed this discrepancy with my memory of the term to the professor, who seemed to remember that he learned the same thing as I. But departmental curriculae often require that the instructor use teaching materials that might be at odds with the instructor's personal knowledge and sometimes the material reflects scholarly research that may have been unavailable to the instructor when the instructor was a student. So often the instructor won't question these materials, which seemed to be the case with the appogiatura.

The professor and I spent a week of separate courses of independent research on the matter and it was decided that the definition of an appogiatura as an accented approach to a chord tone by a leap was incorrect. His justification was that the other book he used for the class, On Playing the Flute, by Johann Joachim Quant–used specifically to settle questions of late Baroque/early Classical ornamentation (and included writing on the subject by CPE Bach)–only discusses the appogiatura as a step-wise approach to the chord tone.

My research included the New Harvard Dictionary of Music (Apel and Rangell), which says the appogiatura is, “A dissonant pitch occurring in a strong metrical position and resolving by ascending or descending step to a consonance in a relatively weaker metrical position.The two full pages that Rangell (1986) dedicates to the term include a historical overview that describes how the ornament was used up to and including Mahler (early 20th Century) and, while including a “feminine” version that is basically a repeated tone, never includes a leap to the chord tone.

Steinke's appogiatura that included a leap also included a step approach. The two notes basically frame the chord tone so that the chord tone, D-natural, occurring on the second beat of a measure might have the appogiatura, E-natural, on the second eight note of the first beat preceded by a C-natural on the downbeat. This was described by Steinke as an “unaccented appogiatura” a term we could find nowhere in our research–except Steinke. My personal recollection of the this kind of ornamentation was what is called a “cambiatta,” which the professor's research supported. But the cambiatta is a broader term and includes several versions that usually include more than two notes, some of which might be described as the elusive “double appogiatura.”

I haven't found in my research materials, which I admit are not horribly vast in volumes or scope, any examples of appogiaturas that use leaps as large as your examples. So I am very curious about your sources because I would like my research resources to include those that point to the evolution of musical terminology. I understand that the term “appogiatura,” once used to describe a step-wise “grace” occuring on the beat, is now, because of the use of materials like Steinke, inclusive of the kind of leap by third and step spiraling into a chord tone(and I don't suggest that Steinke is wrong, just that I haven't found the thread that led to his definition). I hope that you can let me know where you learned the appogiatura to be exclusively what I would see as a “large interval short cambiatta.” It would help me greatly in my research into the evolution of musical terminology. Thank you, my friend.

Ratzo B. Harris

hoznomore says:

deep stuff jon

hoznomore says:

deep