~ Americana Melodies ~

~ nut ~

~ start ~

~ as warmups ~

~ learning to read ~

~ learning a melody ~

~ learning some improv ~

~ learning the words to a song ~

~ diatonic melodies ~

~ one scale shape ~

~ a song in C major ~

~ list of Americana songs ~

'conquer fears of playing the melody and super charge your expressiveness simply by playing melodies we already know by heart ...'

' really just takes the rote learning of one melody to lock in the first connect between our heart, head and hands, the rest is just gumption, shedding, be present and what we bring :)


In a nutshell. An easy and often rather quick way to advance our joy in music is to sound out the melody of a song. As guitarists, the idea here is to create a solid, three way connect between our hearts, minds and hands. Meaning we can go through our brains to rote learn one melody. We jump start this process if necessary with just a couple of pitches, with a melody we learned as kids.

There's a couple of dozen or so included below to help find one. Pick one, play it by rote the way you know it. Use the included chart and audio to smooth it out if needed. Really get it solid under your fingers and musical, whatever that means to you. Then get the line swing by finding its 2 and 4 pulse with a metronome. From there on it's about what you bring to this melody today for chances it'll be different every time you coax it forth. And that's just one of a dozen songs you'll know from the set list to follow up with.

Only really takes one. While hopefully there are a dozen or so melodies included here that you know, it really only takes one song to begin to puzzle the pieces of how to 'play by ear' into place within each of us. Once in place we can proceed by our own gumptions and there's no real limit to our development. So we simply need to find one melody that might go all the way back in our memories and musically master all the juices that it may conjure up and encompass.

That a lot of blues cats will wring a whole bunch of coolness out of even just one pitch should tell us how valid and effective this simplistic pedagogical approach can be. Can we somehow infuse a greater sense of joy through a different articulation of the pitches discovered by singing the idea then finding on our guitars?

So the strengthening of this emotional to physical conduit is the goal here. It's understanding and capturing the magic of a melody that we seek to master. So we start simply to have some fun. And if we can do it with just one or a couple of pitches, we've then anatomically begun to connect the 'play by ear' dots, which over time and with shedding, becomes our own unique and natural way of melodic expression with any sort of melody we choose to interpret. Cool? Artistic signature? Yep.

In this work; The Saints with William Tell, Rising Sun with Scarborough Fair. As this whole book is not really a true methodology for learning guitar but leans more to vocabulary, architecture and art etc., the one suggestion included for strenghtening melody playing is to learn two songs together; to segue. In major; "The Saints Go Marching In" and "William Tell." In minor; "Scarborough Fair' and "House of the Rising Sun.' You choose which is first but plan on rote learning both please in the long run.

For in these gems are the Americana acorns to grow the mightiest of the mighty; the feel of the downbeat swing on beat one and the back beats of 2 and 4, the eighth note gallop rhythm of course, all with the now ancient diatonic pitches. The melodys in minor, probably the more ancient of the pairs, cores up a deep, modal flavoring with a ton of room for the blues hue. That these four melodies focus on the tonic center and dominant notes of our local universe is just an added bonus really, as rhythm, timing and the blues become our own red, white and blue :)

Working these lines in time with a metronome brings forth the basics of the time, rhythms and swing that make the Americana sounds so joyous, free and danceable by all ... 'if you can pat your foot to it ..." So if you need a place to start, try the links in order to the right. That even fair to midland mastering of the process outlined will illuminate a lot of your musicality. From there it is up to you. "For these books ..."

"pat your foot"

As a warm - up. Most of the melodies presented below make for a great way to musically warm up our chops. For while we can play all sorts of exercises, by playing a real, recognizable melody line warms up our musicality; so all of the above to get us ready to perform. Want to get into a musical domain right now? Put on some clicks, choose a melody and play the line through from end to end a few times. Then create some variations on your theme, then play the melody again as written a few times. Now your 'musicality' is beginning to fire on all necessary cylinders to motor your music. You are warming up . Well at least in theory ... :)

Learn to read. Learning to read standard music notation today from scratch is simply about wanting to do it ... then doing it. Just do it? Yep. We strengthen up our abilities by doing. The melodies included here are a perfect way to begin to read. Reading music is just like reading letters; pattern recognition. And unless we're ready aloud to listeners, the big difference between words and musical notes is that in music, we want to keep our eyes moving along in time; because that's what music does, it flows along steady in time. So for reading music to make 'music sense', we don't stop.

Regardless of the results or boo boo's along the way, keep the eyes moving and the rote learning of the symbols will eventually get things to fall into place. To be a monster reader often means starting to read music at a very young age. If that's no longer possible, to be a functional reader and perhaps even an eventual monster, just read some every day you can and like most things in life we strive to achieve, we'll get better by trying and not ever really giving up. Quitters rarely win or so it seems and vast trove of written music that reading opens up can make it well worth the effort.

Learn a melody. Learning to read standard music notation today from scratch is simply about wanting to do it ... then doing it. Just d

Learn to improvise. Most of the melodies presented below are extracted from these two scale shapes in and around 5th position; so C major and 'A' minor. Look familiar? Cool or just learn them here if need be. As most of the songs which follow are in 'C' major and 'A' minor. Modally the same pitches, these near identical shapes merge into and come from the original one. Regardless, these two are a true super wonder for the modern guitarist. Example 1.

Learn the words. Perhaps the easiest way to sound 'convincing' when playing real melodies is to simply sing the words of the song along with our interpretations of the melody. Want to bring more 'emotional' whatever to your thing, find the words of a song and use their emotional story / expression in your mind as you bring to life your instrumental expressions / version of the story being told. Tricky at first depending but way way way powerful once where all lashed up.

Diatonic melodies. All of the melodies included here are for the most part completely diatonic to their key center. Only these pitches are used to create the melodies. There's a few exceptions of course, there always is, but diatonic rules the day with these lines. Hearing diatonic, thus when a pitch used is non-diatonic, is just part of the learning process here.

One scale shape. Most of the melodies presented below are extracted from these two scale shapes in and around 5th position; so C major and 'A' minor. Look familiar? Cool or just learn them here if need be. As most of the songs which follow are in 'C' major and 'A' minor. Modally the same pitches, these near identical shapes merge into and come from the original one. Regardless, these two are a true super wonder for the modern guitarist. Example 1.

So find a line. So the following learning method is created by two main ingredients; our own personal music experiences and American melodies that have been around for a long while; the melodies that pass from generation to generation that carry forward the philosophical and historical Americana spirit within.

Most of the following come from Let Music Ring, a music curriculum series that was used in America's public schools during the last century. So is this the classroom text used by dedicated teachers to instruct so many of our national music heroes? Yep them be the cats. So pick and click and off ya go ... just to pick and click and off ya go :)

Starting strong / play by ear. Whatever melodies we decide to play, starting strong is all about making sure we are totally down with knowing the line enough to sing, know by rote the first real note of the melody, surely where it is on the neck, even what it is in theory within the song; i.e., root, 3rd 5th etc., its letter name, knowing all of it really helps.

Rote learning through repetition works the magic in this. Being prepared helps in getting over any of our fears of playing the melody. And for some, this simple start can build a confidence to spark a love and curiosity to know the theory of it all.

top of the list everyone knows it / big 4
core minor colors / octave leap within
one we really just gotta know
for kids built in swing with 5 pitches
title of song can cover all the words
a beginning song for even eighths
for kids / triadic, vanilla 12 bar blues
for kids / big wide swing in octaves
classic ballad and modulation to Six
just the hook of the classical 'gallop' we love
fave and sweet chord melody
big four drive w/ a nice hang on the dominant
banjo tune / solid triad construction
just the hook of the classical 'gallop' we love
gospel gem minor blue note featured
just an essential melody for all
pairing of major minor lines / big swing in 3
big swing built right within
great story for voice
tonic and dominant at their best
a mosey in 3 down the avenue ...
octave leap set the game in motion :)
just a perfect lilt and balance of form
big four swing in octaves
early country tellin' a story gem
big 4 quarter note swing
for the wee one's always
total standard for the pro leaning picker
a perfect major 3rd / sus 4 motion
early jazzer with changes to play through ...
pure major pentatonic, one for New Years Eve ...
up tempo bluegrass number to sharpen chops
one all Americana's should know by heart
our national anthem

"The Saint Go Marching In." This first melody is truly classic Americana. Mostly associated as a jazz melody and linear in shape, we get an original source for the essential 'big 4', four quarter notes pounding out the beat for the parade band to step lively to. The swing is built right in. Recorded by dozens of top stars over the all decades, Louis Armstrong, who probably wrote it :), taught us how we all we might swing with this melody. So grab your horn and join along and learn this song by rote. Once mastered, get Franz on 2 and 4 and find the pull of its swing, then yours. The opening lick is an easy sequence. First pitch? 'C' of course :) Hipsters will run it through the 12 major keys. Example 1.

Here's the line and tab in 'G' major, getting all of the pitches onto the top string 'E.' This is a good way to get comfortable accurately moving up and down the neck with a nice melody to bring to life. Example 1a.

Interesting eh? Bring some nuance to every pitch? Slide and slurring on some of the key notes? Cool with the motion to Four? Then right on :)

"Shortnin." Into the waybac for a swinging line made up of the five pitches of the major pentatonic group. Here written out as an 'A/A/ B' 16 bar form. Example 2.

"Easy Going Blues." Jumping on the major 6th color from "Shortnin" just above, just another 12 bar blues in 'C.' Example 2a.

"This Old Man." This classic melody might be among the first we as kids might ever learn growing up in here America. And if there was ever a melody that we can sing to learn to how to swing, I'd suggest this one first. For if we 'swing when we sing then all we need to do is make this magic happen on our chosen instrument ...' Again the 'big 4' sets the march for big swing, so reminiscent of the wide quarter note swing nightly brought to life for decades by the Count Basie Orchestra. Once the line is mastered, get Franz on 2 and 4 and find the pull of the 'old man's swing. Hipsters of course will run it through the 12 major keys, maybe even write one of their own variations generated from this 12 key shedding. Ya just never know :) Easy easy diatonic idea to sequence in measure six. Example 3.

"Oh Shenandoah." Old time Americana song about Shenandoah, a true legend of our earlier times. Covered by just about everyone in the biz, features a solid motion to Six, the relative minor. Example 4.

"William Tell Overture." Old time Americana song about Shenandoah, a true legend of our earlier times. Covered by just about everyone in the biz, features a solid motion to Six, the relative minor. Example 4.

the gallop
wiki ~ "Willian Tell Overture"

"I've Been Working On The Railroad." This classic melody might be another one among the first we as kids. Again the 'big 4' sets the march for big swing for the 'A / B' 32 bar form. Once the line is mastered, get Franz on 2 and 4 and find the swing. Motion to Four in the 5th bar is very common. Hipsters of course will run it through the 12 major keys. Interval of the fourth to start out :) Example 5.

"House Of The Rising Sun." This next melody, is as written here pure, five pitch pentatonic minor and goes way back in our musical history. Based on the minor triad, if there was ever a beginning level melody in minor to bring the juice, this could be tops. As a folk / rock ballad, this song went to #1 back in the mid 60's and is a fave of many even today. Learn it here if need be. Again, through the 12 keys minor for the hipsters. Oh, if a song once went to #1 on the charts as this one did, might it do so again? Example 6.

"Kumbaya." Well ya probably knew this melody would be here yes? Got to have one campfire tune that everyone knows in the mix right? Really just a great line that really shows the strength of the major triad to kick things off. There's the classic Four to Three melodic suspension and no leading tone. Probably could work in a shred metal format also. Hipsters of course will probably run this line through the 12 keys. Example 7.

Through 12 keys by ear. Just a suggestion, tis an amazing thing that the 'arms around the theory perspective' of our music, one's chosen instrument and facility with pitch, when this sort of melody is mastered by rote and with some feeling, through all the 12 major keys. Even if attempted just one time badly in one practice session will turn on some new lights of insights into your music, try it. Here's the cycle of fifth's diagram to organize the keys. Example 7a.

"Swing Low Sweet Chariot." This next melody is really just pure Americana gospel. Mostly major pentatonic with an added Four pitch, the absence of the leading tone in the line seems to just bring on the more relaxed spell of Americana gospel. Also a big 4 ~ quarter note swing feel is kinda built right into the line. More built right in Americana DNA magic? Pretty much. Just keep going over it till the swing starts to pull ya. Once you know this physical feeling, you'll remember it for all times. Here's this essential line written out in 'C', learn it here and now if need be. Just an old time Americana gem that brings a true sense of our Americana inspiration. Guitar handy? Example 8.

Glad to have these pitches under your fingers? Getting a smile as your version of this melody comes to life? Cool, there's a ton of juice in this one. 'Swing Low' also creates a solid chord melody arrangement for guitar. An arrangement is included here in Essentials.

"She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain." Man what a tune! Old as the hills and probably straight off the banjo! Quarter note figure of the big 4 insures the wide Americana swing potential with lots of room for phrasing improv. This melody can really invoke the gallop; that trick of rhythm that sets a musical thing into motion. For between swing time and the gallop to kick it off, lies the vast Americana danceland of the big 4, as happening a groove and pocket as ever filled a dance floor. Here's the line to be rote learned. Eventually all 12 major keys for the hipsters in the room. Example 9.

"Amazing Grace." Into the waybac machine to go gospel again here to find a gentleness of melody as unsurpassed in tenderness and humility as any written so far. The gallop rhythm nudge from just above here written in as the triplet in the very first measure. Purely pentatonic major in its pitches, a perfect balance of two, eight bar phrases becomes an everlasting a gem to be mastered. Classic example of the role of harmony; while there's no fourth scale degree in our melody we can clearly go to the Four chord in the third measure. Three chords and the truth do often rule the day. Example 8.

"Go Down Moses." The story of the Jewish diaspora from wayback and later just a classic Americana gospel melody in the minor tonality. The opening leap of the minor 6th sets the perfect mood for the longing message of freedom. I learned this song back in elementary school, probably sang it with gusto and created parodies with it a million times since. Big quarter note swing in the minor 'a la Wes' in octaves is built right in and in this arrangement we borrow the leading tone 7th from the harmonic minor to boot to fill out a full V7 chord. Here in E minor, these are some powerful pitches. Find them and learn by rote and they are yours forever. Example 9.

"St. Thomas." This next melody is mostly known today as a Latin jazz melody. Made popular by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins in the mid 50's, St. Thomas is a lovely example of a perfectly balanced set of four, four bar phrases that structures so many of our coolest and most historically popular Americana melodies. The last phrase, even without accompanying harmonies, is quite remarkable in its simplicity and perfect cadential closure of pitches. A joyous melody that just has the dance built right in, St. Thomas brings the natural merge of quarter note swing and the Latin sense of things. Written here in four, it is easily felt in the '2 feel' of the samba. Ex. 10.

"Scarborough Fair." This next melody is a classic folk melody in the minor key. With a true hint of the Dorian mode in measure 7, just a lovely and balanced line. Four, four bar phrases, with a repeat of the first to close the melody, form the 16 bars of the song. Quite a big hit for Simon and Garfunkel in the 60's, "Scarborough Fair" has long long been a favorite of many. Make it one of yours perhaps or get it under your fingers to quote somewhere along your melody way. The harmony is tricky and negotiable, do find other versions to help create your own arrangement. Example 11.

"Billy Boy." This next melody might be known today mostly as a nursery rhyme. Energized by the 'big 4' beat, we gain the big swing potential. In one sense, the two eight bar phrases in its form becomes a sort of half or 'mini 32 bar A B' song form, which structures a gillion or so songs. "Billy Boy" is included as a piano trio arrangement by pianist Red Garland on a recording often considered to be among America's greatest jazz albums. Titled 'Milestones' by the Miles Davis Sextet recorded in 1958, Mr. Garland's own 'two fisted' chordal block styling recreates this children's melody with a seemingly bottomless sense of swing. Learn it hear if need be. Just sing the melody and find the pitches on your ax. Example 12.

"Greensleeves / a ballad." This next melody goes all the way to back and across the pond to the Elizabethan era in merry old England, when Shakespeare's Globe theatre was the best gig in town and iambic pentameter was still the rage. "Greensleeves" is a song with two contrasting themes that balances between the core yin / yang ~ major / minor colors. We start out in minor, modulate to major and return to minor to close the song. Surprisingly (?) that there's no Picardy 3rd written to close the line. Pairing 'E' minor and 'G' major with a few extra pitches :) Example 13.

"La Cucaracha." We head for the vastlands of the Americano Southwest to find this next melody. How is it that a couple of pitches in a rhythm can so quickly evoke a cultural source and inspiration? Surely there's a magic beyond just cliche eh?

Here in 'C' major, two four bar phrases, the melody note motifs of both phrases start with the pitches of the diatonic One and Five triads. The first phrase is centered on the tonic One moving to Five ... what no motion to Four ? :) The second starts on Five and heads back to One. Just a perfectly balanced, antecedent / consequent, call and response styled melody that everyone in the room could very well know, thus enjoy. Example 14.

"Oh Susanna." This next melody is really classic Americana. Again we feel the jaunty American musical flavor of early Americana created by the major pentatonic group of pitches. In this melody we find a sixth pitch, the essential Four, which opens the second half of the tune. Written by the 19 century Americana composer Stephen Foster, his song has been recorded by dozens of top stars over more recent decades. The arrangement by folk / pop artist James Taylor is a wonderful example of diatonic harmonies and passing chords covering a classic Americana melody.

"Oh! Susanna" also makes for a great bluegrass melody and vocal song in a brighter tempos, another melody that surely one everyone in the audience should know. A mandolin styled, offbeat rhythm comping of 'one chuck two chuck' works the magic behind these sorts of old timely melody lines. Written here in an A A B form with the repeat sign, two verses then the chorus. Example 15.

"The Sidewalks Of New York." Just a great old melody in 3 with an interesting melodic form of 32 bars. Perhaps the one true 'waltz' tune included here, think '123 123 etc., to get this one going. Nice 4-3 suspension in bar 12 and an easy going descending sequence in 3rds in bar 17. Example 16.

"Take Me Out To The Ball Game." This melody is really classic Americana as it is part of the tradition of the sporting game developed in America originating here in 1850's. Written in lolly gagging sort of 3/4 waltz time, suggestive of a relaxed afternoon spent out of doors among friends and community, the melody line opens with an octave interval leap, our interval king if you will, that bases our whole system of music theory both art and science.

This melody is probably among the best known lines in all of America today, for millions of baseball fans get to sing it during the '7th inning stretch' in many ballparks. Usually played by the organist, learn it here by rote by first singing the melody and then just finding the pitches on your instrument; fist pitch 'C', then up an octave etc.

While mostly diatonic in its pitches, there's a beginning hint of melodic chromaticism in bars 9 and 28, that while surely adding interest to the line, are also the same sorts of pitches that opens up new improv opportunities for soloing through the non-diatonic chords they can help generate for the evolving guitarist. Example 16.

"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Back in 3, this lovely major triad based melody has a built in smile as its title implies. Written in a perfect A B 32 bar form, where the opening idea is most often restated verbatim in the second 16 bars then altered a wee bit to create a solid melodic and cadential motion to bring the line to a solid conclusion by bar 32. This melodic treatment is very common in this form. Recorded by many top stars along the way, an easy quote to bring the 'smile' to other songs too. Example 17.

"Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore." This next melody is also really classic Americana folk and went to #1 on the radio play charts in 1961. Spiritual in nature, again our melody starts off with the pitches of the major triad. (There seems to be a lot of triad melodies on this page.)Again we see the pentatonic five enlarged by one additional pitch to include Four, while Seven is not present, so no leading tone for the melody but surely of we had chords in this arrangement. So really just a super nice example of the balance of two, four bar phrases. The first phrase gets us to Four and back to One. The second phrase is basically One / Five and back to close on One. Thinking in 'C' major. So an eight bar folk song went to #1 ... nice. Example 18.

"Old Joe Clark." This next melody is as 'old as the hills' I'd imagine. A transplant from the old British Euro country to our new Americana country probably during the early 19th century. "Old Joe Clark" is more old 'timey' or bluegrass today than true folk depending on the players I guess. What is super clear in its pitches, intervals and their sounding is the Mixolydian grouping of the pitches that creates this classic Americana sound. Here we see in the following arrangement its 1/8 note magic, that becomes the 'lingua franca' of true swingsters for the last 100 years or so. Note the same initial melodic 'call' idea in the first four bar phrase as in the second, which ends a bit different creating a sense of closure to the line. The followed by the 'response' in bar 9. Example 19.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy." Surely into the waybac to find this melody, back to when the American dream was still just a dream and the folks on the scene were working very hard to bring it all about. Again the super quarter note big 4 march brings the swing right near to our fingertips yet again. A totally diatonic Ionian major scale group of pitches which creates this whole melodic idea. Learn it all right here if needed and all 12 keys for those hipsters in the room. Example 20.

"Yellow Rose Of Texas." This country leaning song and melody turns out to be as perfect in combining four bar phrases as any we might have. Again using the full compliment of the seven pitches of the major scale, combined with the quarter note feel captures the early style and sounds of the Americana West era.

The pickup to the line; the 5 - 4 - 3 pitch motion, motored by the big 4 sets it all off, the pitches are major triad and Six. The diatonic interval leap of a sixth in bar 13 is a common, solid way of energizing a cadential motion a melody back to close upon its tonic pitch. Easy to imagine a bit of added drum cadence after the last pitch. Learn this melody here if need be. Pro leaning country artists should review the lyrics also. Ex. 21.

"Jolly Old St. Nicholas." A holiday favorite from way way back, stepwise diatonic motion from Three to One wins the day for the opening phrase. We use only six pitches of the major scale, the perfect fourth / Four is not present, yet the harmony can easily go to Four in each of the phrases. goes to Four a couple of times. A sort of 'mini A / B' form, two similar eight bar phrases. The first closing on the second scale degree, the latter closing to the tonic. An easy way to expand one phrase into two :) Example 22.

"Auld Lang Syne." Surely into the wayback to source this five pitch aire. Clearly major with the tonic established on beat one with a Five / One resolution, the line builds to Six by the end of the first four bars; the relative minor, before finding its way to the same dominant / tonic pitches that open the story at the close of the second four bar phrase. Third four bars is the refrain or chorus that sounds a motion to Four at bar 12, hearing the 'changes in the line?' A last pass and pause on Six before the Five / One cadential motion to close. Example 23.

'Got anything for New Year's yet?'

"The John B Sails." This next melody is a folk song originating in the Bahamas of the 19th century to be discovered and recorded in the 20th. And with some Hollywood polishing, it gets to #3 on the top 40 chart for a couple of months or so for the Beach Boys, a West Coast group that featured some hair raising vocal harmonies. Not too shabby for a century or so old song :)

Just a neat and purely diatonic major scale gem of a melody line, the opening major 6th leap from Five up to Three starts us off, our rhythms set up an off beat pulse that consistently creates the forward motion for the melody phrasing. This offbeat feel is a mainstay of what Latin rhythms bring to the American musical pie, the core of these offbeat rhythms helping to create a new focus on the second and fourth beats. So ... 2 and 4? Yep, 2 and 4, the backbeat that powers most Americana. Example 24.

"Careless Love." This next melody takes us back to the dawn of the 20th century where it was said to be a favorite song for New Orleans musicians. These origins making it possibly one of our first jazz compositions that got played a lot. With its diatonic major scale basis, two eight bar phrases and a written in chromaticism giving us some of the true blue hue itself. The song closes with a sequential off beat lick, perfect for the essential 'three times and out' 'arrangements while you wait' to close out a performance of the song. This 'three times and out' probably the most common of our improvised, negotiated on the bandstand endings. Example 25.

"Arkansas Traveler." In the following arrangement of pure American melody we brighten up the tempo to near 200, transitioning us stylewise towards the bluegrass side of country. So tempo determines style too? Yep. Takes real chops to play fast and this just eliminates a lot of players. Regardless, we needed one up tempo chop buster number and here it is :)

As jaunty a riff as any, a longer streams of 1/8th notes in bar nine once repeated, is a nice counter theme to the opening line. Here written in 16 bars and A / B melodic form, the two themes completely organic to one another in that classic folksy 'call ~ response', or 'antecedent ~ consequent' or even 'theme ~ variations' phrasing. So, scooting right along in 'C' major at about 190. Ex 26.

"The Star Spangled Banner." Our final melody to include could easily have been at the top of the list; our own Americana national anthem. Major scale and surely major triad based, moves just one time beyond the diatonic realm, finding the raised Four (#4) to Five melodic motion in bar 11.

This measured tritone from our tonic root pitch, an 'F#' in 'C', is the diatonic initiator of V of V. Once broached it really is click by click around the cycle and we discover the additional Five of Five's that enhances the pitches beyond their diatonic boundaries without legit sorts of modulation to new key centers. Isn't this backpedaling ?

A solid 32 bar song form and structure, four / eight bar phrases combine to create a passionate story and all in all a well crafted song that truly inspires. Of all of the songs included here, the "Star Spangled Banner" offers a fairly challenging line pitchwise with some historical phrasing ideas that will strengthen our own interpretive powers, once the pitches and rhythms are solidly under our fingers. Learn it here if need be. Example 27.

Can you play this one by ear ? Improv it as you go? Is this improv / by ear part of the magic that has enthralled folks since it all began? It sure is. That a part of the music they are hearing is being made up brand new right then and there just for them makes it special. And for the dancers in attendance? Probably, for through their aural process they too can enter into this collective improv dynamic to improvise their own vision of the musical story being told through their body movement to the pulse of real time shared together.

Warming up. For the advancing and dedicated to getting better guitar players reading here are included are three ideas from the literature. Any who play their sport know the value of warming up their strengths prior to taking the field.

Patterns, shapes and eight notes.

Mind and body into hearts and hands.

Playing chord cycles / playing lines through changes.

Cycles of things / chops.

Simple melodies through 12 keys.

Review. Were you able to find a melody or two to rote learn in the basic scale shape fingering suggested? Sense that once the pitches of a scale shape are under our fingers, that a melody is just a thought or two away? Cool, for that's the crux of this page; find a melody we deeply know in our hearts, find the pitches on our instruments, then simply work it over and over to strengthen our ability to impart our emotional and artistic ideas into the pitches of its melody. This is the basic physical / intellectual musical connectivity that founds our own unique improvisations, creative expressions to develop our artistic signature.

Why learn melodies / themes? From the old as the hills artistic technique often termed 'a theme and its variations', an artistic concept and philosophy which also applies to many of our art disciplines; musics, sculpting, painting, writing etc., this theme and variations is the basis of so much of what American improv is about, where the music being performed is played by ear. That traditionally our musics are not being read as notation from charts as they are being performed.

Through folk and into the blues, onto the various rocks, countries and myriad of pop stylings, once the theme is stated, soloists often get to 'variate' and create their own 'take' of the melody. When happening in real time with spontaneous or already worked out ideas, most is played by ear and improv is happening.

Jazz players often get a further valence for exploration here in that the chord progression of the song provides a second vehicle for the improv. Artists will 'spell' the pitches of each chord into melodic lines. That each of the chords can become a 'mini theme' of their own, offering a something to variate. Historically, arpeggios have played an oversized role in this approach to the improv. Mix in chord substitution here, a common occurrence in jazz performance, and we can end up with a ton of resource to choose from in creating our play by ear variations.

Another important aspect of this 'play by ear' discussion is about rhythms and specifically developing one's own ability to swing. In the following method, we look to some historically deep Americana melodies, some that might take us back to our childhoods, for melodies that we might already intuitively know by heart and rote. Once under our fingers, we've then got the necessary ingredients to work on its timing and to get the line to swing. The idea here is that by getting one of these phrases truly 'up off the ground' and swinging, we've connected the inner dots of swing between our heads, hearts and hands and can then apply this magic of time and space to whatever might come along.

So what follows are a dozen or so melody lines that are suggested to be played by ear to figured out, then committed to rote memory. Once there by rote, our individual interpretations begin anew. And though we might not ever gig these sorts of lines depending on our own artistic directions, in practice they'll strengthen our melodic confidence to interpret melodies and project the emotional statement we're looking to make.

"Always think different from the next person ... don't ever do a song as you heard somebody else do it."

Otis Redding

"I wrote the shortest jazz poem ever heard ..." "Listen."

Jon Hendricks


(1)Mauleon-Santana, Rebeca. 101Montunos, p. iv. USA Sher Music Co.,Ca. 1999

(1) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 40-42. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.

New Orleans' musicians. Around the 1870's restrictive race laws were legislated, passed and enacted to recreate the southern U.S race relations as they were before the war of 1860; physically separating races in society that was somehow deemed to be equal under the law, the U.S. Constitution. Sections of the city now 'walled off' nearly overnight, directed classical musicians of color into new performing environments where they now needed to rote learn and improvise their music in addition to reading from their song books. Our Americana jazz stylings throughout are history are in many ways the results of these evolutions. And in these capable hands, songs such as the included "Careless Love", become the earliest of 'jazz standards.'

(1)Burns, Ken. (Producer) (1990) Jazz [DVD], PBS Home Video, vol.1, Gumbo @ 10 minutes. United States: www.pbs.org