In a nutshell. The theory basis of melody here is summed up in the idea that the sounding of the melody of a song alone, in time, can capture the sense of the story being told. That, with or without the words, chords or bass line, we can get a glimpse of the artist's heartfelt intent, conjure within our own creative images of the story being told, as if there were words to reflect upon, simply from the song's pitches in their rhythm moving through time as the story unfolds.

Overview. One branch of this study includes 25 or so Americana melodies. Taken from an old public school text from the 50's found in an Alaskan emporium, all of these lines are pure Americana, and for the most part, purely diatonic too.

This textbook, titled Let Music Ring, in its many editions, was the core of our public school music education all through the nation during the last century. Meaning ? That so many of our musical heros of today learned these same melodies as kids growing up. They sang them in grade school, played them in band class, in the marching band and 'pep' band. So learn a few here if necessary, and begin your journey in Americana melody by following along the same pathways that so many of our great musical artists have also journeyed upon.

With all written the melodies included here in the relative keys of 'C major / A minor', the idea is to use these melodies to rote learn, and realize, how the same major scale pitches; 'C D E F G A B C', are fashioned into some of the most recognizable and cherished of our Americana melodies. That once these pitches are under our fingers, near endless melodies burst forth.

And that by learning musical notes and rhythms by rote we hardwire together our art / music making necessities; hearts, mind, hands, body etc. And once this inner connect is wired up with real melodies we know by heart, that personal magic of individual expression is deep and will just continue to blossom and strengthen all along one's development.

Theme and variations. This age old way of creating improvisations, especially in the common Americana performance formats, is encouraged all along the way as the written melodies are mastered. For until we cross over into the blues and jazz, where improvised solos add in reflections of the harmony and form of a song, knowing a song's theme, and creating variations of it creates the basis for improvisation.

Second branch, by the numbers. The second main branch of our melody studies here brings us to the idea of number of different pitches in a melody will help determine its musical style. Thus empowered, we get into that creative realm of 'jazz it up.'

There is a system of theory here for understanding melody whereby their letter named pitches become various series' of numbers, all related and based upon one pitch being the central pitch in creating a key center. Learning of and mastering this numerical perspective of the theory is probably the biggest game changer for the intermediate to advancing theorist reading here.

So we begin our study of melody here and then follow step by step with links to additional discussions. This first idea for finding some pitches and creating melody is the original way of doing it I'd imagine, probably as old as the hills and works near every time :)

"Sing the line, play the line."

Clark Terry

Sing the line, play the line. In Americana musics, a lot of improvised melodies we create come from music we have rote learned. So an easy way we can first discover melody pitches and their relation to one another is simply by singing them in some fashion. Then by ear, by trial and error, and pitch by pitch if needed, we then find and art nuance the pitches to emulate our voice.

'If I can sing it I can play it' is the mantra here.' The link here is to a couple of dozen or so Americana melodies notated out with a mp3 sound file for playback. Find one you dig, one that really resonates with your being. That a melody you already know by heart is probably a perfect place to start these studies, pairing up the rote learning of a written melody and begin to improvise your own variations, simply by sing the line, play the line.

Begin to read music notation. Reading music is like all reading really; we learn the symbols and push the buttons. Reading music is tricky as we're also moving through measured time, which brings the melody pitches into a groove. The only trick I know when beginning to read is to train the eyes to keep moving, in tempo with the music. Eventually as we strengthen our ability, we can 'read ahead' a bit in the score, see what's coming up.

Oh, a second trick of sorts in reading is about rhythm. That tricky passages often need to be extracted and worked over. In this work we can master the lick's rhythm first. Clapping the rhythm helps lock it in. Then we just layer in the pitches over their rhythm. Of the two rhythms are potentially more of a challenge.

Through doing it over time and just like regular words, we'll see the same notation symbols time and again, and once committed to rote memory, they will flow together. Read a bit each day and see if you don't get stronger. And no limits here in how good a reader one can become as there's a sky high pile of music to choose from.

The blues. At the historical core of Americana melody is a wide band of blues. And whether your own style and direction is headed this way, understanding the theory relationships created by the blue notes in any style, is really worth a few hours of study it will take to begin to understand the basics of their influence. Also in these initial blues discussions are a couple of essential Americana components; the 12 bar form, the original call and response of gospel music and the beginnings of chord substitution in jazzing up the blues.

Improvisation. Improvisation has historically been a basic component in the Americana musics, through all of our styles. For very little of the music, when being performed, is written down. So where does it come from? Well, from memory. We rote learn our parts and collaborate them together with the band.

And while we can strive to play our parts the same way every time, there's usually some variations, which provide sparks to not only make each performance unique but collaboratively memorable as well, often generating new ideas to pursue. For in solo as well as group performances, by rote is the most common way.

So there's three basic parts to improv theory in this book. By ear is first. The second and third are soloing over or through the chord changes of a song. And once this distinction is made by the artist, there can be some subtle differences in the learning pathway to follow.

As jazz players are historically 'through the changes' improvisors, 'over the changes' artists usually cover the rest of our style spectrum. Choose a link and find your own way forward, while also knowing that thanks to the theories of it all, and you advance in your studies, that these approaches will end up merging into one another further on up whichever pathway we choose today.

by ear
soloing over changes
soloing through changes
a spectrum of styles

Stories. Melodies carry to essence of our stories in their pitches. And that we each have stories to tell, gives us a reason of sorts to put the two together. Following the ancient learning traditions, we learn a few classic melodies by rote. Once empowered, our own muse usually tells us a way to go exploring on. Got a story to write into a song ? Cool, let the magic begin for you.

Review. We've had melodies all along now, rhythms of course too. But once the pitches came forth, our stories combined with pitches to move through time together, and the form of a song was born. Since ? Well, a lot for sure and in our studies here and now, we simply define what melody is to you, and create a learning pathway to explore and develop the skills to bring forth the art from the heart. And while melody making is hard wired into our physical with body and voice, a bit of study and practice begins to fine tune our expressions. Energized and empowered, we each then understand ways forward to achieve our artistic goals.

"One good thing about music; when it hits you, you feel no pain."

Bob Marley

References. References for this page's information comes from school, books and the bandstand and made way easier by the folks along the way.

References academia Alaska. And when you need university level answers to your questions and musings, and especially if you are considering a career in music and looking to continue your formal studies, begin to e-reach out to the Alaska University Music Campus communities and begin a dialogue with some of Alaska's own and finest resident maestros !