What is melodic soloing?

haredrums

Silver Member
Hi Guys,

Some of you may know that the name of my blog is "The Melodic Drummer", and this is something that I have been thinking about and trying to develop a lot in my own playing. One question that I get from both non-musicians and musicians alike is, "What makes a drum solo melodic?". I think that this question is actually a really difficult and interesting one, and I have posted an in-depth reply on my blog at:

http://haredrums.blogspot.com/2011/09/max-roach-melodic-architecture-and.html

Let me summarize my idea. Using the classic example of "For Big Sid" by Max Roach, I broke down Max's approach to melodic soloing into two basic ideas, architecture and phrasing. By melodic architecture I mean using the overall structures of a melody, in this case the AABA form and the head-solo-head format for the entire song. And by phrasing I mean the smaller scale elements that combine to make a melodic phrase, in this case call and response, use of space, and repetition.

By using these two ideas, Max creates a feeling of melody throughout his solo. There are obviously other ways of playing the drums melodically, for example drummers like Ari Hoenig and Jeff Hamilton often play melodies with almost explicit pitches, but my feeling is that this approach of Max's is the basis for everything else.

I would love to get everyone's feedback on this idea. Do you guys try solo melodically? Do you think this is a useful approach? What are some of your favorite examples of melodic drumming? Are there other elements of melodic drumming that you think are more important than the ones I listed?
 

moontheloon

Silver Member
John Riley has a great way of developing this melodic playing on his DVD the Master Drummer

he uses "Mary"....which is the melody of Mary had a little lamb played on the drums first in quarter notes, then in consecutive steps gets more and more complicated all building around the base melody of the song

Elvin takes a similar approach here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YVOd1hK0_w
 

Arky

Platinum Member
Melodc soloing is what I'm doing on the electric guitar all the time.
...oops, wrong instrument - sorry ;-)
 

haredrums

Silver Member
Hey Moon,

Yeah, I love that Elvin clip! So inspiring. And I definitely feel you and Arky about playing another instrument. I have done some piano, but I am hoping to step up my Vibes in the near future.

Do you guys try to practice this way? I have been working on this a lot recently and have found that it has unearthed a wealth of meaningful solo vocabulary.
 

moontheloon

Silver Member
Hey Moon,

Yeah, I love that Elvin clip! So inspiring. And I definitely feel you and Arky about playing another instrument. I have done some piano, but I am hoping to step up my Vibes in the near future.

Do you guys try to practice this way? I have been working on this a lot recently and have found that it has unearthed a wealth of meaningful solo vocabulary.
i definitely practice this way

I like to make loops on the Mac of a melody ...maybe 8 bars long....and try to tastefully solo over it without getting too far away form the melody
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
It's an interesting subject, and you're doing a great job getting a conversation going about it. I've been meaning to write something about it, but I've been slow getting my thoughts together.

I do think melodically, but mostly between the snare drum and bass drum. If I do it in soloing, usually it's just to instigate a move- I don't compose long, horn-like lines that way. More, though, I play melodically in the sense that I'm deriving a complete drum set part from a single melodic idea, a la the Ted Reed/Alan Dawson system. I also approach it with the idea of recognizing that there is melodic content to everything you play on the drums, whether you're trying to be horn-like or not; when you understand that and hear it, then normal sounding drum parts (even very "drumistic" ones) take on a little more natural vocal logic, as opposed to the tone-deaf muscular thing you hear from a lot of drummers.

Hoenig's thing is wonderful and amazing- a really good parlor trick... that's not a criticism, btw. As a regular part of playing the drums, it takes things into a weird place- I can't help feel that it becomes a different instrument at that point; like if you're going to play tonally for real, you may as well get up from the drums and pick up an instrument that is better adapted to it. It reminds me a little bit of a professor at SC who thought the EWI was great because it would let him play bass lines. Play your own instrument, you know?

Developing- like I said, I need to think some things out...
 

dmacc_2

Well-known member
Hey Moon,

Yeah, I love that Elvin clip! So inspiring. And I definitely feel you and Arky about playing another instrument. I have done some piano, but I am hoping to step up my Vibes in the near future.

Do you guys try to practice this way? I have been working on this a lot recently and have found that it has unearthed a wealth of meaningful solo vocabulary.
I studied with a teacher for several years that taught this approach as part of the overall lesson plan.

We covered a ton of Parker songs especially and I learned so much from doing it. I still practice this way when I have need to close the books and do a creative brain dump.
 

haredrums

Silver Member
It's an interesting subject, and you're doing a great job getting a conversation going about it. I've been meaning to write something about it, but I've been slow getting my thoughts together.

I do think melodically, but mostly between the snare drum and bass drum. If I do it in soloing, usually it's just to instigate a move- I don't compose long, horn-like lines that way. More, though, I play melodically in the sense that I'm deriving a complete drum set part from a single melodic idea, a la the Ted Reed/Alan Dawson system. I also approach it with the idea of recognizing that there is melodic content to everything you play on the drums, whether you're trying to be horn-like or not; when you understand that and hear it, then normal sounding drum parts (even very "drumistic" ones) take on a little more natural vocal logic, as opposed to the tone-deaf muscular thing you hear from a lot of drummers.

Hoenig's thing is wonderful and amazing- a really good parlor trick... that's not a criticism, btw. As a regular part of playing the drums, it takes things into a weird place- I can't help feel that it becomes a different instrument at that point; like if you're going to play tonally for real, you may as well get up from the drums and pick up an instrument that is better adapted to it. It reminds me a little bit of a professor at SC who thought the EWI was great because it would let him play bass lines. Play your own instrument, you know?

Developing- like I said, I need to think some things out...
Hey Todd,

Thanks for the contribution. I definitely hear where you are coming from about how you approach playing melodically. That is why I tried to start with the Max Roach approach which has more to do with the feel/rhythm/organization of the melody as opposed to it's pitches. I think that that is the common sense approach to this technique, and also the thing that benefits the greatest number of people.

I also hear you about the Ari thing. But I would like to bring up another perspective which is that the history of jazz is full of people doing things on their instrument that people assumed were impossible, with amazing results. Often times the people who do these sorts of things on their instrument import technique/approach from one instrument to the next. Two big examples of this would be Lois Armstrong singing like a trumpet player, and Paul Chambers playing horn lines. These approaches have since become standard practice, even redefining the roles of those instruments.

I am not saying that Ari is going to redefine how to play the drum set, but I do think his approach does open up really exciting and creative possibilities that other people may develop even further. Just the other day I tried playing a melody in front of an audience for the very first time. The tune was "I've Got Rhythm" (somewhat ironic), and I played it with mallets. The effect on the audience was really startling, like they were listening to the drums for the first time.

Anyways, great discussion guys, thanks for contributing!
 

haredrums

Silver Member
I studied with a teacher for several years that taught this approach as part of the overall lesson plan.

We covered a ton of Parker songs especially and I learned so much from doing it. I still practice this way when I have need to close the books and do a creative brain dump.
Yeah,

Bird is the man for this kind of thing. I found a great quote of his where he says, "I think of melody as rhythm". Food for thought!
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
I think of it rather simply. Melodic playing is when I'm not trying to play any specific pattern, lick, or groove. My playing is defined and encompassed by how it literally sounds in the music, how it compliments the melodies played by the band. I can't literally play a melodic passage, but I can focus on making sure I'm complimenting the melody of the song. This is in contrast to "holding" a beat or playing a certain fill in a certain place as my goal.
 

haredrums

Silver Member
I think of it rather simply. Melodic playing is when I'm not trying to play any specific pattern, lick, or groove. My playing is defined and encompassed by how it literally sounds in the music, how it compliments the melodies played by the band. I can't literally play a melodic passage, but I can focus on making sure I'm complimenting the melody of the song. This is in contrast to "holding" a beat or playing a certain fill in a certain place as my goal.
Hi Dr. Watso,

Yeah, I think that is another good perspective on melodic playing. What about when you are soloing? Do you think of it the same way?
 

jonescrusher

Pioneer Member
Jack DeJohnette's playing on his 'Picture 3' piece is a lovely example of rhythmic melody played in timekeeping. The more i've worked on it (featured in Riley's Beyond Bop book) the more obvious his sense of melody becomes. It seems the great players had a sense of melody as strong as any of the pitched instrumentalists.

To me melody is the concept that turns comping and soloing from chops recital to spontaneous expression: hear a melody and play it!

PS - does anyone know where DeJohnette's Pictures album is available to buy? Can't find it anywhere.
 

haredrums

Silver Member
Jack DeJohnette's playing on his 'Picture 3' piece is a lovely example of rhythmic melody played in timekeeping. The more i've worked on it (featured in Riley's Beyond Bop book) the more obvious his sense of melody becomes. It seems the great players had a sense of melody as strong as any of the pitched instrumentalists.

To me melody is the concept that turns comping and soloing from chops recital to spontaneous expression: hear a melody and play it!

PS - does anyone know where DeJohnette's Pictures album is available to buy? Can't find it anywhere.
Hey Jonescrusher,

DeJohnette is a perfect example of a melodic drummer, I couldn't agree with you more! I think that his focus on melody is part of what helps him work so well in Keith Jarrett's group. He is also a pretty excellent pianist which gives him an even deeper perspective on melody.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
Hi Dr. Watso,

Yeah, I think that is another good perspective on melodic playing. What about when you are soloing? Do you think of it the same way?
Absolutely. Even in a rock song, when everyone else stops and I keep going, my goal is to make everyone in the audience still "hear" the music anyway, as if it never stopped. This means my solo has to continue the feel, and structure of the music. It's definitely not about huge impressive fills when I "solo", it's about music.
 

Garvin

Pioneer Member
I think of it rather simply. Melodic playing is when I'm not trying to play any specific pattern, lick, or groove. My playing is defined and encompassed by how it literally sounds in the music, how it compliments the melodies played by the band. I can't literally play a melodic passage, but I can focus on making sure I'm complimenting the melody of the song. This is in contrast to "holding" a beat or playing a certain fill in a certain place as my goal.
This is exactly what I was thinking about. I really like Ari and Jeff Hamilton's ability to literally play the melody, but I agree with Doc here. Another great melodic player is Kendrick Scott. His album "The Source" has some superb melodic drumming in terms of the arrangements. He's a beast when it comes to chops as well, but so much of his playing on that album has to do with the music. It's hard to believe he's the bandleader.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
I also hear you about the Ari thing. But I would like to bring up another perspective which is that the history of jazz is full of people doing things on their instrument that people assumed were impossible, with amazing results. Often times the people who do these sorts of things on their instrument import technique/approach from one instrument to the next. Two big examples of this would be Lois Armstrong singing like a trumpet player, and Paul Chambers playing horn lines. These approaches have since become standard practice, even redefining the roles of those instruments.
That's definitely part of the tradition, though I suspect getting the actual tonal part is too specialized a technique to become an expected thing. I think what's more likely to catch on generally is more drumistic melodic playing, with a few special people running with Hoenig's thing. As it is it's sort of a vaudeville element that audiences can grasp right away and share verbally with their friends, which is a very good thing for Hoenig- it's got to help him book dates. Jazz musicians ignore the high concept element at their peril.

I hope you're working on finding the breakthrough technique for this thing, by the way- it seems like the next couple of years will be a good time for hitting the people with a comprehensive method for it...
 

haredrums

Silver Member
That's definitely part of the tradition, though I suspect getting the actual tonal part is too specialized a technique to become an expected thing. I think what's more likely to catch on generally is more drumistic melodic playing, with a few special people running with Hoenig's thing. As it is it's sort of a vaudeville element that audiences can grasp right away and share verbally with their friends, which is a very good thing for Hoenig- it's got to help him book dates. Jazz musicians ignore the high concept element at their peril.

I hope you're working on finding the breakthrough technique for this thing, by the way- it seems like the next couple of years will be a good time for hitting the people with a comprehensive method for it...
Hey Todd,

I just put up a blog post with a video of me playing a melody, and I used this conversation in it (I hope you don't mind!).

I finally have a recorder with decent sound, so now you guys can hear what I have in mind.

http://haredrums.blogspot.com/2012/01/me-playing-melody-ive-got-rhythm.html
 
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