Ask Damian Erskine: More Melody for the Average Joe?

Q: Any tips on becoming a more melodic player? I think there are a bunch of guys like me: “Average Joe’s” playing in a cover band setting where the chord changes are basic and we hit a brick wall after our triad or major scale/pentonic patterns run out.

A: If your playing opportunities don’t allow for much exploration of your melodic side, I might recommend a few things.

1. Take all of those tunes that you already know from the bass players perspective and dig deeper! Learn all of the melodies, written guitar riffs, chunks of written solos, etc. When you really know a song inside and out and from any angle, you have complete freedom to make it your own. Of course, it always comes down to taste and what’s appropriate but really learning the melody might give you opportunities to harmonize with the singer on a certain passage, for example.

That’s one idea for exploring your more melodic side while playing cover tunes.

2. Ask the guys in the band (or find some other guys) to do a side garage project. No pressure, no gigs (unless you want them), just a rehearsal band that sheds whatever music you aspire to play in the comfort of someone’s jam room. Play jazz, get everyone to learn a Chick Corea tune, whatever you want! But create an avenue for you to explore the kind of playing you’d really like to explore!

That said, as far as home practicing, have you really gone as deep as you can go with triads and chords? There’s a lot that can be done practicing at home. You may just need a harmonically free-er environment (as far as your band goes) to explore that stuff in context.

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. To be more melodic, play lines you can sing. Sing along. Sing in your head. Singing helps your phrasing. Singing will naturally lead to melodies.