What is it that makes one tune different from another? Melody.
What makes a song a hit and what is it that you remember? Melody .
What is the only aspect of music that you can copyright? Melody.
Melody is boss. Which is why I always shudder a bit when I hear ‘scales’, ‘modes’ and ‘improvisation’ mentioned in the same sentence. (I just shuddered).
Sure, you can rattle off scales and string riffs together and throw in the odd mode or two, but unless you’re thinking melody, you have not made music; you are not improvising. You may have confirmed that you know which building blocks fit, but you’ve created nothing new. Improvisation to me implies invention, and you don’t invent scales any more than an artist invents Cobalt Blue or Vermilion Red. Scales and modes are like the squirts of paint on a palette. You have to choose carefully which to use, which to blend. Start mixing too many colors and you wind up with mud.
Think melody, is my advice. Don’t let your hand dictate what you play. More often than not, two or three well-chosen notes are far more musical (melodic) than a run through a scale, or worse, an inappropriate modal… thing. Let your heart lead you. Of course you should know your scales, just as an artist should know his or her colors, but to truly invent something new, like a spontaneous melodic line, you can’t be thinking scales or modes.
The rules of improvisation are set by the key of the piece of music generally, and specifically, by what I call the ‘chord of the moment’. Both provide the framework upon which you can drape your melodies. When chords from outside the key intrude, consider them as key changes.
On the face of it, music seems like a highly complex set of relationships: intervals, chords, scales, modes, keys, harmony, rhythm, tempo, ‘feel’. But really, all these elements are there because of melody. In fact, the entire multi billion dollar music industry exists because we love melody.
If you’re still looking for a way of ‘seeing’ the music on the fretboard, a way of distilling any musical moment down to it’s barest essentials, visit my site and read about my book PlaneTalk-The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Book. It is a comic strip conversation in which I describe in great detail (in plain old English) the trick I use to keep track of everything, a simple visualisation trick that years ago opened up the whole fretboard to me.
And remember, Melody is boss.
Kirk Lorange is one of Australia’s best know slide guitarists. He is also the author of PlaneTalk guitar method. Check out his sites: www.KirkLorange.com and www.ThatllTeachYou.com